Methane-sniffing robots

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The Egypt team at the 2018 International Final in Thailand: from the right it is Ahmed Hatem, Adham Moustafa and far left holding his passport is Ahmed Amr. Ten teams participated in the new Future Innovators program. From 2020 it will be a fixed part of the National Final.

Can robots help farmers detect rot before it destroys all the crops? The Egypt Future Innovators team at the WRO® International Final in 2018 came up with a potential solution.  

Ahmed Amr and Adham were friends at school and have improved their robotics and coding skills through workshops and research on the internet. They've also done a lot of robotics projects, as their scool in Assiut emphasizes this kind of learning. The two friends met Ahmed Hatem in a robotics workshop in 2018 and the three of them decided to join the WRO competition.  
The school lies in an area in Egypt which was famous for its cotton industry during the 20th century. The team didn't choose the cotton industry for their WRO project, though, but another kind of industry: food production in greenhouses and how to solve a serious problem related to it.

Methane detecting robot

Five months before the competition in Thailand, the team was in a workshop where they started using sensors. That gave them an idea. Ahmed Hatem says:

"Agriculture is facing a problem with crops rotting in green houses due to changes in weather and problems with ventilation. This costs loads of money. We wanted to use our knowledge to help that field, and started researching how to solve that problem."

What the three friends discovered was, that when the crops start wilting, methane gas develops. The amount of gas is directly proportional with the stage of infection. They had the idea to use MQ4 sensors to detect methane levels.
Ahmed Hatem describes the prototype, which is U-shaped and has two programs controlling it. 

"It has a unique shape that allows the plant to pass through it. The robot can detect the amount of methane gas that the plant emits and evaluate, whether the amount is normal or not. If the methane level is above normal, the robot sends the data to the farmer."

While they worked on the project, each of them were responsible for a part of the project, like the prototype, but they collaborated throughout the process. They found it was a good model for getting things done faster.

From broken projector to patent application

At the competition in Thailand, the team ran into technical problems during their presentation. The projector didn't work, so they had to present without slides. Nevertheless, they felt the judges were positive towards their project.

"We met a guy who works in the agricultural field in Europe. When we explained the project to him, he wanted a project like this right now," says Ahmed Amr.

The three friends say it was a 'totally good experience' to participate as Future Innovators, and that they now know that delivering a good presentation takes a lot of research and practice. As Ahmed Hatem puts it:

"We learned a lot from interacting with the judge and other participants, getting more experience with robots, coding and creativity. Also, the experience with the business model canvas and presenting was something great for us."

The team didn't win and were advised to improve parts of their project, which they have. And they haven't stopped developing. Next step is working on getting a patent, because they want their methane detecting robot to be a marketable product. Ahmed Amr says:
"We know what to do to take it to the next level. When we go to college, we will continue our work and find investors to help us bring our project to life."

The Egyptian team was sponsored and supported by Sico Technology, an Egyptian company manufacturing mobile phones and tablets, and EITESAL, which stands for Egyptian Information, Telecommunications, Electronics, and Software Alliance. It is a private sector, non-profit entity of ICTE companies, Multi-national corporations, Organizations and Institutions operating in Egypt.