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A smart approach to soil sustainability

  • Zerosion s physical component is an innovation in erosion prevention technology.

  • An image where AI has highlighted eroded regions in red, indicating device placement.

  • A CAD rendering of the final prototype.

  • An engineering drawing, showing the gel dispenser and anchoring mechanism components.

  • Iterations of the Zerosion physical component prototype.

What it does

Zerosion is a comprehensive system for identifying and preventing soil degradation in agriculture. Using AI, Zerosion analyzes images to automatically detect erosion. Innovations in surface covering and soil anchoring are used to further prevent erosion.

Your inspiration

The initial idea for Zerosion came from exposed roots on the side of a hill. The idea was to create artificial roots to stabilize soil in areas too harsh for plant growth. We researched current erosion prevention techniques and how they were implemented. We discovered that the exposed fields typical in agriculture are highly vulnerable to erosion. Because soil degradation reduces the fertility of soil, it decreases crop yields. This encourages unsustainable farming practices, like over fertilization and deforestation. Therefore, maintaining the fertility and quantity of farmable land is critical to the sustainability of agriculture.

How it works

Zerosion works in two steps: identification and prevention. The AI identifies erosion based on low NDVI. NDVI measures the health of vegetation based on how it interacts with visible and infrared light. If the absorbance of these frequencies is known, NDVI can be easily calculated. Visible and infrared images were obtained from NASA and the USGS and used to calculate NDVI. Zerosion’s AI was trained using hundreds of images where low NDVI was highlighted. The resulting AI is capable of identifying erosion in aerial images of farmland and fields. Where the AI has identified erosion, Zerosion’s physical component can be implemented. It’s innovative design features anchoring rods, and a gel dispenser. The rods are spring loaded, such that they push outwards into the soil. The extended rods stabilize the soil and anchor the device. Above the surface, gel is pumped into a gel delivery system and out onto the surface of the soil, insulating it from wind and water.

Design process

The anchoring mechanism was designed to “grow” outward from the device like plant roots. Three proof of concept prototypes were developed, each based on a fundamental approach for pushing a part into the soil. These included a mechanical, elastic, and spring driven mechanism. The mechanical and elastic mechanisms unhinged on a pin into the soil, while the spring loaded design pushed a rod directly into the soil. Testing showed that the rod design penetrated the soil more effectively. Next, an activation mechanism was developed. One idea wrapped the body of the device in a water soluble material that would hold the rods in place. The cover would dissolve in water, allowing the springs to discharge. However, once the covering dissolved and the rods extended, there would be no way to hold the rods inside the device again. The final activation mechanism is a sliding gate, which when lifted, the springs discharge. This design is built into the device. The initial design for the gel dispenser featured tubing wrapped around the body of the device. Holes in the tubing shot concentrated, laminar streams of fluid, which oversaturated small regions of the soil and left others uncovered. The final design features a sprinkler head that deflects fluid outwards, evenly, in all directions.

How it is different

Zerosion combines AI with technical innovation to deliver a modern anti-erosion system. The use of AI revolutionizes erosion identification, virtually eliminating the need for expensive geological surveying and soil sampling. Since eroded regions are pinpointed by the AI, physical solutions can be placed only where they’re most needed. Optimizing placement saves on average 38% in overhead costs. Zerosion’s physical component combines and improves on the best current preventative measures. Other erosion mitigation products cover the soil, disrupting plant growth. Zerosion’s dispenser uses gel to coat the surface, which allows vegetation to grow while still effectively protecting the soil. Unlike artificial ground coverings, Zerosion’s gel will biodegrade leaving the soil unharmed. The design also features an innovative anchoring mechanism. Since the rods are spring loaded and extend outwards, they anchor the soil more effectively than traditional methods.

Future plans

Currently, the gel dispenser connects to a manual valve that would require human intervention to activate. Future designs would incorporate automatic activation using a timer, or sensor. Since rainstorms cause rapid erosion, a moisture sensor could activate the dispenser during heavy rainfall. Hydrogel has been used up to this point, but may not be ideal for covering edible vegetation. In the future, a plant based and biodegradable gel would be selected. The CAD design can also be improved for increased functionality. Varying dispenser designs would be tested to select one that is optimal for long distance, and uniform gel dispersion.


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