Neha Anand, Khondoker Aminuzzaman, and Azhar Syed check tomato ripeness and stalk health in a MUcci Farms greenhouse.Students learn about tech-enabled food production at the Mucci Farms tomatoes-on-the-vine greenhouse in Kingsville. From left: Neha Anand, Khondoker Aminuzzaman, and Azhar Syed check tomato ripeness and stalk health.

Students explore application of technology in agricultural facilities

Through the course Emerging Paradigms in Computing Technologies (COMP 8207), students in the Master of Applied Computing program participated in a unique experiential learning opportunity to determine how their skills can find application in regional food production facilities.

“Students have been studying newer technologies like blockchain, AI (artificial intelligence), and IoT (Internet of Things), among others, to determine how the technologies could be applied to our regional agri-tech sector,” explained Victoria Abboud, the faculty member who developed the course.

“Our projects are embedded in a scenario each semester and this term is devoted to agri-tech. We have explored risk assessments, business cases, and even budgets to solve industry challenges that address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal toward food security, nutrition, and sustainable agriculture.”

Students teams engaged in a mock competition for a hypothetical $5 million over three years to build and implement their ideas.

Dr. Abboud notes that according to Invest WindsorEssex, the region is home to more than 4,500 acres of greenhouse operations, making it the largest greenhouse cluster in North America and second largest in the world.

Partners from Mucci Farms and Highline Mushrooms brought class members through their operations to demonstrate how tech has been used to improve growing techniques, pest control, and packaging and production, to name just a few processes. Although mushroom growing is not technically part of the greenhouse industry, the opportunities for tech-controlled environments is fundamental.

“It was impressive to see how technology is transforming the way we grow and maintain crops,” recounts Akshay Kumar, one of the students on the tour. “With the help of IoT and AI, greenhouses can monitor and control various aspects of the environment such as temperature, humidity, and light levels. This allows them to optimize growing conditions and improve crop yields while reducing waste and minimizing resource usage.”

Classmate Sriram Velaga was also impressed: “The tour gave me a better understanding of the scale of food production and the challenges that come with it. It also made me appreciate the hard work that goes into producing the food we eat.”

Students pitched their tech applications to select industry guests and faculty as part of their course projects, and the top three teams participated in the School of Computer Science Demo Day on April 6 at the Advanced Computing Hub, the new downtown campus building at 300 Ouellette Ave.

“The students bring their tech expertise into industry-focused problem-solving and innovation that has implications for global food security,” says Abboud. “By the end of the semester, they are more confident, skillful, and articulate about how their work intersects and supports real-world applications.”