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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 01 September 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 1 SEPTEMBER 2018 23 INNOVATION | GREECE ever used. The system is selflearning as the collected data is utilised to create actionable profiles on every part of the field. This means that farming procedures are constantly augmented by increasingly refined data on the myriad of variables involved, thereby making it possible for the system to meet exact crop need. "Back then, I was looking to improve the wasteful method of blanket fertilisation when I learned there is a direct relationship between how green the plants are and how much nitrogen they have absorbed," Dimitri explained. After teaming up with friend and fellow Engineering student George Varvarelis, they soon had a simple sensor strapped to the front of Dimitri's trac- tor which could detect the colouration of wheat plants. This information was processed by a box of electronic wizardry created on Dimitri's workbench and used to control the actuators he had fitted to the fertiliser spreader at the back. "It was an indescribable moment when it all came together for the first time. It was almost uncanny - all I had to do is drive across the fields and the system did the rest!" But there were teething problems. The sensor proved too imprecise and had trouble detecting crop variations caused by soil type and poor drainage. "Then, another good friend of mine suggested spectrum analysis, explaining that astronomers can tell the chemical composition of stars based on their spectral signatures. George and I went back to the workbench and designed the system using far more versatile and infinitely more accurate 4K spectral cameras - and it worked amazingly well!" Field testing by the university proved that the system produces higher yield, less waste and improved crop quality. FROM FARMING RESEARCHER TO ENTREPRENEUR With the concept proven, the next hurdle was perhaps an even greater challenge. Greece has suffered a decade of austerity and economic decline. It is not an environment conducive to promoting the bright ideas of young people, despite their boundless enthusiasm and being armed with an invention set to turn the world of agriculture upside down. Fortunately, they were accepted by EGG - a program run in co-operation with Eurobank S.A. which does its best to get some start-ups off the ground, in spite of the prevalent ill-wind. "George deserves respect for the giant leap of faith he took when we founded the company – we were risking everything and so much was uncertain," Dimitri explained. The co-founders moved to Athens and built a team of like-minded individuals around them. "You soon learn that nothing is more important than being with good people who share the same vision." The system has since evolved to include the capacity for pesticide and fungicide spraying. Im- portantly, machine learning and big data are also part of the package that is offered as a 'plug and play' device. "The data from the cameras is sent via the 4G mobile phone network to build a profile of the farmer's crops, so not only is the status of every inch of the field known in real-time, but the system improves in accuracy each and every time it is used." The system has already undergone testing in various European countries. Seed funding from Marathon Venture Capital was recently secured, so Augmenta is soon to open an office in the US. It is also a finalist in MassChallenge Texas, the largest no-equity start-up accelerator in the world. With global food demands climbing and con- cerns about the environment rife, people are beginning to see that 'Augmented Farming' may very well be the solution so desperately needed. From workbench tinkerer to becoming the benchmark for young entrepreneurial spirit in a relative heartbeat, Dimitri has had to learn fast to pursue his dream. "There are many challenges ahead, but each step is a collective learning process which helps with the next one - after all, learning curves are there to climb, most especially the steep ones!" He pauses reflectively before adding; "And if my story thus far proves anything, it is that when surrounded by truly wonderful people, anything at all is possible." With a robust mindset like that, one can only agree. Budding entrepreneur Dimitri Evangelopoulos, has been committed to making ‘Augmented Farming’ a reality.
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