SPACES

Screen-Printed Agricultural Chemical & Electrical Sensors

Funded under “RESTART 2016 – 2020” Programs of the Research and Innovation Foundation 

Project number “POST-DOC/0718/0163”

About the project

SPACES is dedicated to generating the sensing technologies that will close the loop and help increase the agricultural efficiency to its maximum. This technological development will contribute widely to the Research, Technological Development and Innovation system of Cyprus. Cyprus has major water shortage and a method to optimise the use of water can greatly affect the country’s economy and agricultural efficiency. Although at the moment soil can be tested with laborious chemical tests, developing the technology that can provide real time data to the farmer as to when and how much each plant needs from each fertiliser will be an internationally ground breaking advancement. The sensors will be fabricated using Thick-Film Technology to maintain a low cost and because this technology has the advantage of producing robust and reliable sensors that can be utilised in very harsh environments like soil. The scientific outcomes of this interdisciplinary project will be disseminated to stakeholders that can follow the road to commercialisation and directly apply the knowledge generated to agriculture, within a few years after the project ends. Although the sensors will target soil parameters, they may also be applied to other application areas, such as water quality monitoring, biosensors, etc., where the environments are equally harsh and similar parameters may be of importance.

SPACES aims to create a novel sensing array for underground appications using screen-printing technology by transferring existing sensing methods from their macro-scale equivalents to miniaturised, solid-state, screen-printed sensors. This key enabling technology is desperately needed because of several important facts that the European Commission has come to realise in the recent years:

  1. There is a constant increase in worldwide agricultural needs in terms of both quality and quantity.
  2. There is an inreasing awareness of the environmental impact of fertilisers overuse to food quality and wild life.
  3. There is emerging evidence that land use is linked to climate change each affecting the other.
  4. There is an imminent danger of overusing natural resources.
  5. While every other technologial compoent exists to transfor from conventional agriculture to precision agriculture, real-time soil quality monitoring has been the missing link and stumbling block of the transition.
In the recent years, the need of improved food quality and quantity has emerged the need to increase agricultural efficiency and effectiveness in terms of fruit, vegetable or crop quality. The young researcher has studied his entire PhD on initiating the research area of low-cost, screen-printed underground sensors (shown below) as a key enabling technology of precision agriculture described as agriculture of the future. SPACES aims to combine the techniques of screen-printing and sensor technologies with the existing soil science to provide the foundation of one of the most difficult key enabling technologies required to move to real-time precision agriculture.  Our innovative approach and screen-printing fabrication method provides several advantages for this specific application. Underground sensors are needed in large quantities for high-density sensor networks when they will be used in open field. Therefore, the fabrication technology must provide a low-cost solution that will allow such a high-density network. Several chemical and physical sensors exist with high enough performances that can monitor the required parameters for precision agriculture but they are either too expensive or too fragile to be used underground. Thick-Film Technology can offer rugged and robust sensors printed on inert substrates that will not be affected or affect the soil around them. The transfer of existing sensing techniques to screen-printed sensors is ground breaking both in precision agriculture and to many other application areas. Furthermore, taking real-time measurements to allow direct action upon the soil quality changes is what precision agriculture is all about.

SPACES focuses on five complementary objectives:

Objective I – Sensors: The forefront of SPACES and an internationally cutting-edge advancement will be the basic research for the design and fabrication of operational sensors using Thick-Film Technology to monitor pH, salinity, water content, potassium and nitrate concentrations. The project’s ambition is to attempt to find novel techniques to sense multiple soil parameters of interest. SPACES will attempt to transfer the existing sensing principles from macroscale sensors to the development of novel screen-printed, solid-state sensors that will have the unique ability of subterranean deployment. 

Objective II – Electronics: SPACES will initially develop instrumentation prototypes for the operation of the sensors with electronics to minimise power consumption and provide enough flexibility to adjust for each fabricated sensor. 

Objective III – Sensor Deployment Technique: Along with the basic research on sensor design, the sensors’ deployment technique in the soil will be a major challenge. In the case of soil, the objective is to identify a way that will allow the sensor to come in contact with the water for an adequate amount of time. SPACES will attempt to not only address the challenge but will provide a reliable deployment technique for the novel sensors. This sensor deployment technique will form the foundation and a new research field in the soil sensing research community.

Objective IV – Disseminate technological advancement to industry: SPACES has as an objective to form a business interest group that will observe the progress of the research and after the demonstration of the system, they may take the prototype instrument to the commercial phase and to possible mass production as a pioneering solution to farmers. The people involved in the project have already contacted certain companies from all over Europe, which have clearly expressed their interest in the results of the project.

Objective V – Technological infrastructure: For a truly sustainable RTDI system, the project should provide the young researcher with skills and expertise to continue his work after the end of the project. The infrastructure and know-how gained from this project will be unique in Cyprus and will be of interest to additional local industries, with sensing applications being almost endless.

Consortium

Holistic Electronic Research Laboratory

The Holistic Electronics Research Laboratory, established by Prof J. Georgiou, of the ECE Department has extensive experience in developing innovative electronic prototypes, either at board level or custom chips level, in applications areas that include ultra-low-power biomedical electronics, bioinspired electronics and space electronics. Furthermore, the laboratory has developed various, optical, inertial and radiation sensors. In addition to a broad selection of nationally funded projects, this laboratory has successfully participated in a number of EU projects, where the roles included being project coordinator (COST Action IC1401 MemoCIS) and WP Leader (ICT- 231168-SCANDLE, SPACE-262890-SkyFlash, FETOPEN 736876-VISORSURF). Furthermore the team involved has been the first to practically demonstrate the principle of using microfluidics and MEMS to sense angular rate without vibratory structures.

Agricultural Research Institute

ARI conducts research aiming to create and transfer knowledge for the development of the primary sector and to solve problems at the farmer’s level. The research results are transferred to stakeholders through modern educational programs and dissemination tools. Its research activity strengthens rural development and contributes to the adoption of a sustainable rural policy and innovation offer. Its main activities include research in the fields of Plant Improvement, Vegetables/Floriculture, Fruit Trees/Viticulture, Plant Nutrition and Irrigation, Plant Protection, Animal Production, and Agro-economic Studies. The Research work of Natural Resources and Environment over time concerned irrigation and fertilization of crops, soil fertility, the application of new technologies in greenhouses, the use of treated waste water for irrigation and the use of renewable energy in agriculture. Experimentation involved all major crops of the area, such as tree crops, grapes, vegetables grown in greenhouses and outdoors, forage crops and aromatic plants. An important part of its research work has been carried out within the framework of cooperation programs of various funding agencies, such as the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Research Promotion Foundation of Cyprus. A key feature of recent Section’s activities is the expansion of studies to new topics related to climate change, the sustainable use of soil and water, precision agriculture and environmental issues in order to assist efforts for sustainable and viable agriculture. The Rural Development Section of the Agricultural Research Institute manages the general research programme “Rural Development and Trade of Agricultural Products”. Specifically, it conducts research which aims to the improvement of the agricultural sector in Cyprus and the enhancement of the quality of life of the Cypriot farmers. Current research activities include issues for cost of production and marketing of agricultural products, the sustainability of farming systems, the use of information technology and robotics in agriculture, and the use of satellite remote sensing applications in agriculture.

People

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Dr Marios Sophocleous

Dr Marios Sophocleous, (IEEE 17) is currently a Research Fellow at the University of Cyprus. He received his M.Eng degree in Mechanical Engineering/Mechatronics and Ph.D. degree from the University of Southampton in 2011 and 2016, respectively. During his studies, he won two scholarships for being ranked in the top 10 students of the year and also won the Jim Graham Prize for the Best Experimental Project of the year for his 3rd year project. Throughout the last two years of his Ph.D., he also worked as a Patent Analyst and Innovation Consultant where he worked with major, European engineering companies on strategic innovation techniques. In 2016, he joined the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering of the University of Cyprus as a Research Fellow working on multiple nationally and internationally funded projects. Marios is also a Research Affiliate to Tel Aviv University, Israel and a member of IEEE, IEEE Sensors Council, IEEE Instrumentation and Measurement Society, IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society, Technical Chamber of Cyprus and an Associate Member of IMechE. He serves as a reviewer in multiple, very well respected journals such as IEEE Sensors, IEEE Sensors Letters, Analytica Chimica Acta, Sensors and Actuators A: Physical, Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical, Sensors Journal, and many others. He also serves as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Sensors and Actuators A: Physical and Microelectronics International Journal, while being a Topical Editor of Biosensors Journal MDPI.
Google Scholar profile.

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Professor Julius Georgiou

Prof. Julius Georgiou (IEEE M’98-SM’08) is an Associate Professor at the University of Cyprus. He received his M.Eng degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Ph.D. degree from Imperial College London in 1998 and 2003 respectively. For two years he worked as Head of Micropower Design in a technology start-up company, Toumaz Technology. In 2004 he joined the Johns Hopkins University as a Postdoctoral Fellow, before becoming a faculty member at the University of Cyprus from 2005 to date. Prof. Georgiou is a member of the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society, is the Chair of the IEEE Biomedical and Life Science Circuits and Systems (BioCAS) Technical Committee, as well as a member of the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society Analog Signal Processing Technical Committee. He served as the General Chair of the 2010 IEEE Biomedical Circuits and Systems Conference and is the Action Chair of the EU COST Action ICT-1401 on “Memristors-Devices, Models, Circuits, Systems and Applications - MemoCIS”. Prof. Georgiou has been selected as an IEEE Circuits and Systems Society Distinguished Lecturer for 2016-2017. He is also is an Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems and Associate Editor of the Frontiers in Neuromorphic Engineering Journal. He is a recipient of a best paper award at the IEEE ISCAS 2011 International Symposium and at the IEEE BioDevices 2008 Conference. In 2016 he received the 2015 ONE Award from the President of the Republic of Cyprus for his research accomplishments. His research interests include Low-power analog and digital ASICs, implantable biomedical devices, bioinspired electronic systems, electronics for space, brain-computer-interfaces (BCIs), memristive devices, inertial and optical sensors and related systems.
Google Scholar profile.

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Mrs Loukia Vassiliou

Mrs Loukia Vassiliou holds a BSc and an MSc in Crop Science (Plant Protection and Environment) from the Agricultural University of Athens and an MSc in Plant Sciences from Cranfield University in the UK. She is the Agricultural Research Officer, responsible for the native, endemic and ornamentals Lab of ARI. Her work focused at the evaluation of crop production systems and practices of ornamentals and cultivation of new ornamental species under the climatic conditions in Cyprus. More lately, her work has been focusing on the evaluation of endemic and native species of Cyprus flora for potential use in commercial floriculture, landscape, botanic gardens etc., development of their propagation and cultivation protocols and at the same time research activities aiming at the conservation and protection of biodiversity. In addition, she has participated in a number of European projects including a Lifelong Learning Programme, Leonardo Da Vinci, transfer of innovation. Project Title: “Urban Greening Systems for the Mediterranean Region” and she was the scientific collaborator in four (4) funded EU Projects, GEWAMED, WASAMED, NOSTRUM and MELIA, in one (1) FAO Project and the RPF Project “ENDIMANTHI” focusing on endemic rare species of Cyprus Flora. Currently, she is the Cyprus representative in the European Botanic Gardens Consortium (EBGC).
Google Scholar profile.

Publications

  1. M. Sophocleous and J. Georgiou, “Instrumentation Challenges for Impedance Spectroscopy for Precision Agriculture Applications,” 2019 26th IEEE International Conference on Electronics, Circuits and Systems (ICECS), Genoa, Italy, 2019, pp. 181-184. Full Paper can be found here.

Contact

University of Cyprus PIs:

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
1 University Avenue,
2109 Aglantzia,
Nicosia, Cyprus

Project Coordinator – Professor Julius Georgiou
Tel: +357-22892264
Email: julio [at] ucy.ac.cy

Young Researcher – Dr Marios Sophocleous
Tel: +357-22893802
Email: sophocleous.marios [at] ucy.ac.cy

Agricultural Research Institute PI:

20 Serifou Street,
1048, Nicosia, Cyprus

Mrs Loukia Vassiliou
Telephone: +357-22403211
Email: loukia.vassiliou [at] ari.gov.cy