Sustainability winner: SOAK

I’m not totally sold on the Microsoft environmental story (hint: lifecycle costs of replacing kit) but you have to take your hat off to the company for selecting the theme ’a world where technology enables a sustainable environment’ for its 2008 Imagine Cup for students. The winners were announced this week and one of them, an Australian team from four universities, came up with project SOAK – a way of managing farm water resources using, of course, Microsoft software.


SOAK, by the way, stands for Smart Operational Agriculture toolKit). It contains no particularly original components, but they’ve all been put together in an innovative way – a mashup of hardware and software to eke out water resources.

When IT, or ICT really, is allowed to be part of ’real life’ like this, then all manner of things become possible and I think that many organisations forget this. Many still regard ICT as a bit of a pain rather than a potential partner in solving environmental issues.

Anyway, enough of that, let’s get back to SOAK. It amalgamates information from a number of sources such as ground moisture, water supplies, rain, wind, temperature and weather forecasts and uses this to fine tune the crop irrigation. It means that the crops usually get the just the water they need. SMS messages can alert farm managers of problems and the whole farm can be monitored through a good-looking web-based control panel which combines Virtual Earth displays with statistical information. This can be viewed through a PC or a PDA.

With almost drought conditions, Australian farmers suffered a 59 percent drop in yield last summer, despite irrigation taking some 66 percent of the country’s water. The SOAK team chose their project well and it’s highly likely to move rapidly to commercialisation.

Because the team members (Long Zheng, David Burela, Edward Hooper and Dimaz Pramudya) were studying at different universities, they kept in touch largely electronically. Practical as well as green. And, judging from their email addresses, they weren’t totally in Microsoft’s thrall. If you want to sense the excitement, take a look at David Burela’s Twitter page. Or, if you want more project details, try this blog post.

These guys are on a roll. Well done Microsoft for choosing such a great subject. And well done guys for winning the software category.

[BTW: a Singaporean team won top honours for  Embedded Development and Brazil for Game Development.]
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