Horizon project: Rainolve

1 September 2021

Rain SpA, with its constant focus on innovation and development, decided to participate in the European Union’s project Horizon 2020. Thanks to its innovative artificial intelligence and sensor system for remote irrigation management, Rain managed to win one of the calls and thus become one of the protagonists of this important European project.

What is Horizon 2020

The Horizon 2020 funding programme was created by the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, to support and promote research in the European Research Area (ERA), as one of the framework research and technological development programmes providing solutions to end users. 

The goal of Horizon 2020 was, therefore, to promote the European Research Area (ERA) by coordinating national research policies, pooling research funding in certain sectors and avoiding duplication. 

Horizon 2020 was also created to implement the European Environmental Research and Innovation Policy aimed at defining and implementing a transformation agenda for the green economy and society as a whole under the perspective of sustainable development.

The initiative supported open access to research results in order to promote greater efficiency and transparency and accelerate innovation. 

The programme was implemented by the European Commission via several internal Directorates-General, such as the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD) and the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technologies, and executive agencies, such as the Research Executive Agency (REA), the Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI), the Executive Agency for Innovation and Networks (INEA) and the European Research Council Executive Agency (ERCEA).

The programme covered the period from 2014 to 2020, and provided approximately € 80 billion of funding.

The programme assigned grants for research and innovation projects through competitive open calls for proposals. Legal entities from any country were able to submit project proposals to these calls. Successful bids from EU Member State and Horizon 2020 associated country participants thus received allocated funding. The associated countries signed an association agreement for the purposes of the framework programme. 

The Annotated Model Grant Agreement (AMGA), updated in June 2019, required that the results of research financed with European funds provided under the programme be published via open access within 6 months, for exact sciences, or 12 months, for humanities and social sciences, from the date of first publication in a paper or online peer-reviewed journal. Rain, therefore, published and continues to publish on Irrigazette.

As of May 2020, 25% of the companies invited to interviews had to led by women, i.e. they had to ensure that a central role in the company (CEO or equivalent positions) was occupied by a woman, such as is the case of the President of our company, Dr. Anna Stiatti.

Rainolve for Horizon 2020

Through the Horizon 2020 project, Rain SpA was able to develop the Rainolve system. This system is based on artificial intelligence, that is, an algorithm able to determine when a plant needs watering or irrigation thanks to information from sensors installed in the soil, as well as weather forecasts. The collected data is sent to a server and then processed by the algorithm. The system involves the use of 3 main components:

  • Sensors: installed in the ground. These collect data that is sent to the server via Links. The sensors work using the agronomic concept of soil moisture field capacity.
  • Links: these use Wi-Fi technology using the ZigBee protocol. They transfer the data received from the sensors and control units to the server;
  • Control units: these come in both 9VDC and 24VAC versions, and activate the irrigation or watering system by opening and closing solenoid valves.

Everything happens automatically. 

Irrigation management continues automatically, with the sensors, once installed, able to create tolerance curves within which the soil moisture content must be maintained in order to ensure that the plant always has access to the optimum amount of water. Once this amount falls below a lower limit, that is, the lower curve, irrigation is automatically triggered. The sensors send the information to the server, which processes it and sends the command to the control unit to open the irrigation solenoid valves. The user only has to set the duration of irrigation, and can monitor the graphs and curves to check that the irrigation is delivered at the optimum level. 

Indeed, plants are living things that need specific conditions to live and growth optimally. We often control these conditions according to experience, advice and insights, which can also endanger the life of our plants and lead to a waste in precious resources such as water.

With RAINOLVE, by leveraging the latest technology and artificial intelligence, it is possible to know at any time and with extreme ease the state of our plants, and whether they need attention. In addition, certain actions, such as irrigation or watering, can be smartly automated. The goal is to give the plant exactly what it needs by collecting data directly from its roots. 

RAINOLVE is, therefore, an extremely innovative AI-based technology, which allows the end user to interact with his or her plants via web platform or dedicated app. In this way, the user always has his or her plant entirely under control, anytime and anywhere. What’s more, RAINOLVE will send the user an Alert if something appears to be going wrong. That means remote management, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, right in the palm of your hand. And thanks to artificial intelligence, we can predict soil conditions on the basis of weather forecasts and irrigate efficiently and with full respect for the environment.

The user sets the duration and time of irrigation, and, then, the sensor data, according to soil and weather conditions, irrigation duration, and time inputs, will be used to trigger the opening and closing of the irrigation system solenoid valves.

How does Rainolve work

A garden is usually a population of plants of different species that live together in the same place. With RAINOLVE, the concept of the traditional garden changes, and we are projected into a futuristic vision where the garden is no longer seen as a static set of plants, but, rather, as a larger and more dynamic whole that encompasses different gardens areas, each with similar plants, climate and similar conditions. 

The operating principle of the RAINOLVE system is based on the concept of soil moisture field capacity. Sensors are installed directly at the roots of the plants, in order to know the exact amount of water needed to meet their water needs.

Imagine that you water the soil in front of you abundantly, and then measure its humidity from the inside. What you will obtain is a graph similar to the one below, which represents a trend in soil moisture percentage over time (Fig. 1).

Fig.1: Graph of soil moisture content at the start of irrigation/watering

The soil moisture curve (Fig.1) rises very quickly, due to water absorption by the soil, but falls off just as quickly, due to DRAINAGE as the water penetrates deeply into the soil under the force of gravity. Water that drains too quickly is wasted because the plants do not have time to absorb it.

For this reason, the primary purpose of the RAINOLVE system is to optimize the management of the irrigation or watering system so as not to supply more water than the soil can actually hold.

At the end of the drainage phase, the soil moisture curve continues with a much gentler slope. From this moment on, the quantity of water lost in the soil is due to EVAPOTRASPIRATION (Fig.2).

Fig.2: Loss of soil moisture due to evapotranspiration

Only during this phase are plant roots able to effectively assimilate the entire amount of available water.

The RAINOLVE system’s artificial intelligence, by analysing the soil moisture data collected by the sensors (drainage), is able to determine the FIELD CAPACITY of the area in question.

The field capacity value (Fig.3) represents the percentage of humidity present in the soil when all of its micropores are saturated with water and only its macropores with air. Micropores are, in fact, able to retain water molecules by capillary action, while macropores are subject to drainage.

Therefore, the field capacity is the maximum value of water available to the plants when the drainage phase, due to the force of gravity, tails off.

Field capacity is not the same for all types of soil, as it depends on their structure and texture, which, in turn, determine the nature of micro and macropores and, therefore, the overall capacity of the soil to retain water under different conditions.

Fig.3: Graph indicating the field capacity inflection point

Once the field capacity value has been determined, the RAINOLVE Cloud system then calculates the wilting point, that is, the soil moisture value at which the plants can no longer absorb water through their roots, and, therefore, begin to wilt.

Knowing the species of the plants in the area to be irrigated, the RAINOLVE Cloud determines the BEST MINIMUM VALUE of soil moisture (Fig.4), which will be considered as the right threshold to trigger a new irrigation event. 

The cloud system uses a database of plants divided into several categories, which are associated with respective wilt risk tolerances.

Fig.4: Best Minimum Value given by the ratio of water needs of the specific plant species and the characteristics of the soil

The RAINOLVE system, therefore, manages not only the quantity of water but also the frequency of irrigation, with the main purpose of maintaining the soil moisture of each area between the FIELD CAPACITY (FC) and the BEST MINIMUM VALUE (BMV) (Fig.5).

Fig.5: Graph showing the optimization of the irrigation frequency – irrigation must maintain soil moisture between the Best Minimum Value and the Field Capacity

The irrigation frequency has a variable duration, since soil moisture loss depends on evaporation under specific weather conditions and plant transpiration.

Therefore, in this futuristic and innovative vision, the Rainolve system allows you to manage the well-being of your plants in an entirely autonomous way, based on the information it receives from sensors and a machine learning model. The cloud system thus collects all the necessary information from the Rainolve devices and weather forecasts, processes them and, accordingly, performs the irrigation. The irrigation is, therefore, decide on the basis of real-time scientific variables. All the information necessary for the well-being of the plants is collected autonomously and efficiently, and irrigation takes place only according to the real needs of the soil-plant-environment system, without wasting a single drop of water. With Rainolve, irrigation is smart, as it only happens when the plants effectively need it.