Diving in to undersea farming through the industrial metaverse
This year will see Disney return to its kingdom under the sea as the infamous Hollywood studio launches the remake of its classic film The Little Mermaid. In the original, heroine Ariel swam among and tended to beautiful undersea plants while singing about her desire to see the surface world.
In Italy, a company named after another Disney film has taken an industry that is very much land-based – farming – under-the-sea with help of the industrial metaverse.
Naples-based start-up, Nemo’s Garden, was founded in 2021 and grows herbs, fruits, and vegetables using underwater greenhouses. The company, which was founded by diving equipment expert Sergio Gamberini, who was struck by the idea of growing basil underwater while he was on a stroll down the Italian Riviera.
With the help of his firm Ocean Reef Group, Gamberini began testing underwater biospheres, but it was the discovery of the industrial metaverse and a partnership with German manufacturing conglomerate Siemens that helped Nemo’s Garden to just keep swimming.
It was last year, when multinational technology company, Siemens, announced its plans to create an industrial metaverse: A virtual world where real machines, factories, buildings, cities, and more are mirrored in a virtual world. In this, industrial companies can design, test, and optimise their real-life products and processes in a collaborate environment, and occasionally in real-time.
Siemens’s industrial metaverse will be a digital twin of the real world, with all the complexities and interactions of industrial systems accurately modelled in a virtual environment. This virtual world will allow engineers and designers to experiment with different scenarios, test new ideas, and identify potential problems before they occur in the physical world.
This metaverse will also be designed to be an open platform, allowing other companies to build their own digital twins and collaborate with Siemens and other partners. The openness will enable companies to create new business models and value chains that leverage the power of digital technologies.
Since Siemens partnered with chip company Nvidia, it was able to advance its digital twins to allow interaction in real time. So, for example, if a digital twin of a factory senses a rise in temperature in the physical environment, the virtual twin will immediately mirror that.
Or, if an individual machine in a factory fails, or an improved component is installed, the twin can be updated to simulate that, too.
Finding Nemo’s Garden
On the surface, the idea of growing herbs, fruit and vegetables underwater sounds strange.
“There are actually three compelling reasons why you should do that,” says Siemens CTO and CSO Peter Koerte.
Firstly, all the CO2 that is being absorbed by the plants is produced naturally by the ocean. Second, is that the ocean does not change temperature drastically, and thirdly, you don’t need any pesticides as there won’t be any creatures affecting the plants.
Plus, if food in Naples wasn’t already famously delicious enough, according to Nemo’s Garden, the plants grown in this environment are nutritionally richer than those grown traditionally.
Despite this, constructing underwater greenhouses is no simple task: “You cannot just go downstairs and see how it works,” says Koerte. Sending divers down underwater to construct a greenhouse costs a lot of time and money, so “you really have to get it right the first time.”
With a keenness to dive in to aquatic farming, Nemo’s Garden sought out Siemens in order to create accurate digital twins of its greenhouse domes, so that they could build them in the metaverse, before going ahead with it in real life.
With digital twin technology, Siemens modelled the greenhouse environment, virtually, to an identical match both in looks and function.
“If you can model that environment virtually before you start, you can foresee the challenges and address them in the best way,” said Luca Gamberini, Co-Founder of Nemo’s Garden.
According to Nemo’s Garden, the firm has seen benefits in understanding the flow of water around the shapes of its biospheres, and a greater understanding of the points of stress.
The Italian start-up also has a better idea of the solar radiation, temperature, and physical factors which act on the plants.
Now, while Nemo’s Garden can anticipate future greenhouses, it can also take advantage of the digital twins, and implement sensor technology to monitor current greenhouses and see how they are doing through virtual reality – saving time spent sending divers down to check and collect data themselves.
“The sensors give us feedback on the CO2 levels, the oxygen levels, and the temperature so we constantly update in real-time,” says Koerte.
Plus, by using existing videos of the growing cycles along with reference data, Siemens was able to train a machine-learning algorithm to monitor plant growth as well as the environmental conditions within the greenhouse domes.
As this algorithm is deployed in each of the domes’ biospheres, the plants can be tracked and monitored through a dashboard throughout the season and changes can be made in real time.
Nemo’s Garden is not the only environment Siemens has simulated, it has also taken up its own factory in Beijing, where it has twinned factory machines, robots, people and materials to ensure the best blend of equipment and processes.
According to Koerte, the factory is “now 20% more productive than its sister factory that is operating today.”
They scored this productivity boost by simulating the production line ahead of the factory build: “By the time we built the factory, we knew this was the most efficient design,” says Koerte.
“Today, I believe that this factory is going to outperform every other factory,” enthuses the CTO.
Why? Because since the factory is now built with its digital twin in tow, Siemens is now able to marry other technologies such as sensors into it to create a completely accurate real-time twin.
“So, whenever there is, for example, a fuel shortage,” explains Koerte, people can react more efficiently to make sure that any machine that needs fuel is getting its fuel ahead of time.
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