Smart Agricultural Robotics for Monitoring Coral Reefs and Plants: A vertical farming perspective


Aquaponics is a vertical farming technique and an integrated production of fish and hydroponic crops with recirculation of the aquaculture effluent used by the plant as fertilizer. This technique offers high water efficiency, a faster growth rate, and high crop yields. Despite all the advantages offered by this technology, its implementation on a commercial scale is hindered by many technical and economic factors, which can be addressed by integrating smart technologies, automation, and control. Together with the landmark technologies of Industry 4.0, such as robotics, artificial intelligence, smart systems, and digitization, the societal relevance of the technologies is the key for future industries. Smart agricultural robotics has emerged as an important area of study, with robots and autonomous systems used to monitor crops and optimize production. Autonomous robots in agriculture enable real-time crop growth monitoring and identification of any issues, such as pests or diseases. This is especially important in monitoring applications where robots must interpret complex data and interact with fish, plants, or coral reefs in real-time. The Aquaponics 4.0 Learning Factory (AllFactory, at the University of Alberta (Canada), founded and led by Dr. Rafiq Ahmad, supports the Canadian industry in such ventures. This presentation will emphasize practical engineering solutions based on state-of-the-art and innovative robotic platforms and cloud-based systems for monitoring in the context of vertical farming.



Dr. Rafiq Ahmad is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta. He is also a Faculty Associate at the Nasseri School of Building Sciences and Engineering at the University of Alberta. He is the founder and director of the "Smart & Sustainable Manufacturing Systems Laboratory (SMART Lab)", which focuses on systems design and engineering. Dr. Ahmad is also the founder and director of "Aquaponics 4.0 Learning Factory (AllFactory)," a unique learning factory researching system design and development for plants and fish production in an indoor, vertical, symbiotic ecosystem soil-less environment. His research interest includes smart engineering systems design, technologies development, digitization, additive manufacturing, green technologies (3Rs: recycling, remanufacturing, and repair), and smart robotics. Dr. Ahmad is a Ph.D. in advanced manufacturing from Ecole Centrale de Nantes, France, and Master's in design and manufacturing from ENSAM-Paris, France. He holds a BSc. Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the UET-Peshawar, Pakistan. Dr. Ahmad obtained a two-year Post-doctoral fellowship from the University of Luxembourg. Dr. Ahmad is a board member of the International Society of Automation - Edmonton (as Co-UofA Student Section Advisor) and a member of APEGA, CSME, and ASME. He is also an active editor, reviewer, and organizer of numerous international conferences and journals. Dr. Ahmad is the recipient of the prestigious Edmonton's 2022 Top 40 under 40 Award by Edify Magazine for his serial innovation and streamlined technology development to impact our society. He is also the director and founder of the Canadian not-for-profit ProBEEs Digital Education Society.