Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) doctorate student Lars Butzmann and his team recently won this year’s SAP InnoJam in Berlin.
Their Remote Farm app combines Industry 4.0, cloud computing, and SAP HANA in one.
Q: You had exactly 25 hours’ time to design and build your app, and only six minutes to present it. Sounds like some pretty tough work!
A: Our 9:00 a.m. briefing on Sunday lasted three hours. We already knew beforehand that the theme of this year’s competition was agriculture and that it would have something to do with the Internet of Things. During the briefing, we also learned that the entries had to be based on SAP HANA technology, involve cloud computing, and make use of sensors. So we rolled up our sleeves and got to work right away.
Stephan Schultz had the brilliant idea of taking the concept of the Facebook game “FarmVille” one step further. Instead of designing virtual plants and animals that had to be fed and cared for virtually, he suggested we design an app that looked after real tomatoes, real cucumbers, and real lettuce. The idea was for gardeners to be able to fertilize and water their vegetable patches from afar using their smartphone. Remote-control gardening, so to speak. So off we went, programming deep into the night. The next morning, we polished off our presentation for “our” six minutes of fame.
Q: What technologies came into play?
A: We deployed sensors that measure the soil’s temperature every 15 minutes and moisture every hour. If the soil moisture falls below a given threshold, a motor is automatically activated that sprinkles water from a container onto the ground or activates a drainage system. It’s possible to add further parameters to the app later on if desired, such as soil acidity or fertilization information. The sensor data is transferred via the cloud to the SAP HANA database, where any and all users of our app can view up-to-date readings and monitor the gardens’ progress.
And now for the really interesting part: Not only can users can review and analyze their own results, they can also compare results and notes with other hobby gardeners, to find out where tomatoes grow best, for example. So with our app, users can learn where to produce the best yields under which conditions. Ultimately, though, it’s the “game” aspect that makes our app special. Everyone wants to harvest the most tomatoes, so they all try to discover who’s got the best method.
Q: You won the Disrupt Europe Hackathon last year. And now the SAP InnoJam. What do you dream of winning next?
A: Every developer at the HPI yearns to do something as great as Hasso Plattner somehow. I’ve won a couple of prizes, already, sure. But I still haven’t found the idea I’d drop everything else for. I’m still undecided as to the topic of my dissertation, but it will definitely center on a theme that has a viable business model behind it. I really enjoy reading up on different companies and searching for new ideas on blogs. How this fits in with programming is obvious, because programming is like chess. You sit in front of the board for ages, mulling over your next move. And at some point, the idea suddenly pops into your head.