Today is UNESCO World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development. A day to celebrate how applying engineering skills can improve modern life and achieve positive environmental impact. While the UN Sustainable Development Goals represent an ambitious challenge to enhance the peace and prosperity on the planet, UN SDG goal #2 ‘Zero Hunger’ calls for bold and transformative steps to end hunger and help people achieve food security, acquire better nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. The United Nations predicts, “if recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030, or 9.8 percent of the population.” Powerful tools like Microsoft’s commercial FarmBeats precision agriculture technology are already playing a pivotal role in helping us achieve ‘Zero Hunger’ by combining a farmer’s knowledge and intuition about their farm with data-driven decision making. However, making these tools approachable, reducing the complexity, and training communities in using data, machine learning, AI, and the world of IoT is still a significant challenge.
Meet the FarmBeats for Students program designed to bring the fundamentals of AI, machine learning, data science, and the emerging world of IoT into the classroom. Developed in partnership with the National FFA and Microsoft, the program combines an affordable hardware kit produced by Seeed Studio with FREE curated curriculum and activities designed to give students hands-on experience building a garden monitoring system. First, they assemble a Raspberry Pi equipped with atmospheric and environmental sensors to understand their soil’s health by streaming, visualizing, and analyzing their sensor data in Excel. Next, they use Excel to construct an agent for automating their garden or greenhouse. Finally, using Lobe’s no-code machine learning application, they build models to analyze plant health and nutrient problems in their plants and identify pests in their garden. The course ends with an introduction to Microsoft’s Responsible AI Framework and presents a discussion about some of the social and ethical challenges raised by this new technology.
It has been inspiring to partner with National FFA. Together we have built this rich collection of materials to kickstart the next generation of food producers in achieving the 2030 goal of Zero Hunger. Today, over 800,000 students in grades seven-adult participate in formal agricultural education instructional programs throughout the United States. Their community of dedicated academic advisors brings leadership and classroom/laboratory education programs to their students by introducing work-based tools to achieve real-world success. National FFA has been at the forefront of helping students discover their talents through their programs of hands-on career experiences. The FarmBeats for Students program infuses rural education pathways with 21st Century skills that enable students to see connections between technology and data-driven decision making while academically aligning to the AI4K12 Big 5 Ideas, AFNR career standards, CSTA standards, and Common Core Math Standards.
On this World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, we are proud to launch the FarmBeats for Students program. With the release of the kit and curriculum combined with today’s students’ ingenuity and passion, we are confident that we are building modern engineering skills that will help solve real-world problems like alleviating the threats of hunger and feeding the world.