Background Information

How it started

Wings of Knowledge is a participatory action-research initiative based in California. Its aim is to empower young people to advance their small, farming communities.

It started with service projects in 2012. Teams of youth from Gonzales, Chualar, and Watsonville identified needs, planned, and implemented small projects designed to improve their neighborhoods. Painting murals, planting trees, teaching small children, and neighborhood cleanups were among the early projects.

By 2015 students were exploring ideas on how to help their communities use water more efficiently because of the drought. A pilot project was formed with a goal of developing wireless soil moisture sensors together with Pisoni Farms in Gonzales. Both the City and School District in Gonzales backed the project and by 2017 students had tested the water-saving technology at 10 farms in 3 counties.

Currently a number of student research teams are working on 40+ projects in 6 California counties. The projects are focused on the interrelated fields of agriculture, technology, sustainability, and rural development. Student work is made possible by collaboration between industry partners, schools, government agencies, families, foundations, and non-profits. Two California non-profits: OLINGA and FAS help the initiative move forward by building local capacity and by systematizing and disseminating generated knowledge.

What students are working on now

By design, the initiative has general aims such as: empowering youth, advancing agriculture, and building capacity in rural towns. The specifics such as needs, goals, and project details are decided locally.

Students form small research teams and work together with local industry partners to design solutions for local and regional needs. Most solutions require the design and production of technology and working with scientific processes. Current and future projects involve students learning how to manufacture and deploy technology solutions such as:

Helping farms save water and fertilizer with wireless soil moisture sensors
Collecting remote measurements with telemetry systems
Assisting irrigation decisions with local evapo-transpiration measurements
Monitoring water-levels remotely
Remote control of motors and industrial systems

This map pinpoints the location of current and future research projects:

How new industry partners are engaged

Throughout California it's encouraging to see farmers and ranchers willing to help create educational opportunities for the young people in their towns. Equally important is ensuring that our industry partners are protected at all times:

The initiative carries a $2 million liability insurance policy.
Supplimental accident and medical insurance help cover drivers, volunteers, and students if they do not have their own health insurance.
Adult supervision is provided at all times.
Student teams are small and manageable: 7 students or less.
Students receive food safety training.
Data generated by field sensors is encrypted, password protected, locally controlled, and NOT shared. The grower decides who has access to the data.

The technology

A system diagram for a typical system is below:

System Diagram

Soil sensors

Soil moisture probes are used to measure soil moisture content at various soil depths. The device is enclosed in a PVC tube to protect its circuitry from dust and moisture. Growers specify the probe's location in the field and the depths at which the sensors should be located underground. The probes are wireless. Sensor data is encrypted and transmitted in real-time via a cellular telemetry system.

System Diagram

Cellular gateways

Sensors in the field collect data. Gateways collect this data and upload it to a secure location on the Internet. Gateways are solar powered and do not require an external power. The device is mounted to a metal pole to protect it from cattle and feral pigs. Ideally gateways are placed in an elevated location to maximize the transmission range to sensors.

System Diagram

Weather stations

Weather stations are used to monitor air temperature, humidity, wind speed, and the intensity of sunlight. This data is plugged into an equation to compute water loss due to evaporation, which in turn is used to inform decisions about upcoming irrigations.

System Diagram

Liquid level monitoring

Currently in development. Liquid level systems will be used to remotely monitor water tanks, cattle troughs, ponds, and other applications that require remote sensing and analysis.

System Diagram

Leaf sensors

This future technology is currently in development. A system is being developed that will monitor the health of plant leaves to determine if the plant is going into shock due to lack of water.