Meet the UAVs Changing the Game for Precision Farming in India
Now that the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2020 winners have been officially announced, you’ll want to learn more about each winning team and the story behind each innovation. In its fourth year, this online competition awards cash prizes to early-stage startups to develop a solution that drives economic development or solves a social or environmental problem.
We are excited for you to learn more about the 2020 winning teams addressing some of the biggest challenges we face through technology-based solutions.
Recently we highlighted our India Impact Grand Prize Winner, Sensegrass. Today we highlight the runner-up PS-1925, who produces an AI-based UAV system that decreases the amount of prolonged pesticide exposure to those who manually spray pesticides.
Curious what PS-1925 stands for? P and S are for founders Pawan (P) and Shefali (S), 1925 is the year when the first scheduled air freight service started in the United States, and together PS-1925 resembles a flight name.
What problem is your technology solution trying to solve?
Pawan: At a very high level we are creating a solution to support precision farming and climate-smart agriculture. More specifically, an automated solution for pesticide management that will in turn increase yields, reduce costs, save resources and protect the health and well-being of farmers and their land.
In India, approximately 30-35% of annual crop yield is wasted due to pests. Furthermore, shifts in weather patterns due to climate change are projected to increase pest growth, requiring more pesticide use. While combatting pests is key to viable food production, excessive use of pesticides can degrade the soil and has larger environmental impacts, it also damages crops, reduces yields and has health impacts on the farmers applying them.
For example, pesticide spraying in India is done in large part by farmers who are untrained or lacking literacy and therefore unaware of the impacts of exposure. Coverage of this topic showed that over three years pesticide use killed 183 farmers in one region of India and 442 across the country. Additionally, to understand the impacts of pesticide use on farmers in India, our team surveyed 100 villagers and found out that 8-10 farm workers in every village are significantly affected due to prolonged exposure to harmful pesticides.
Given our passion and experience with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), we saw an opportunity to help farmers address these challenges by automating the pesticide management function.
Can you explain how the solution works?
Shefali: PS-1925 is an AI-based drone solution that helps farmers take a more scientific and precise approach to pest management by using AI, GPS and drone technology. It is the only AI drone system that uses an artificial neural network model with a backpropagation algorithm.
We use standardized, calculated formulations by experts and scientists, and AI algorithms to inform the UAVs when and where they should be spraying pesticides, to ensure they are only using pesticides where and when they need them. For example, via GPS technology the UAV knows precisely where to begin spraying and then returns to its exact original location. The farmer doesn’t need to do anything and the data is then shared onto the farmers mobile device or laptop. In some cases, our employees bring the reports on our devices to the farmers.
Our goal is to automate the process and educate farmers so they can protect themselves while also focusing on the productivity and management of their farm. We offer a low-cost, affordable and easy to use solution so that it will be accessible to the masses. We have adopted Climate-Smart Agriculture practices in our business strategies and hence we support the UN SDGs such as Climate Change and Zero Hunger.
PS-1925 can cover 10 acres of land in a day, while a manual laborer typically covers 1-1.5 acres a day. Our solution uses only 10% of the water used in manual methods of spraying and saves 30% of the crop protection chemicals. From June to December 2019 Krishna saved 14,800L of water, nearly 150L of pesticides, 200 lives were impacted, and five jobs were created.
Click here to see a video demonstrating how PS-1925 works.
What inspired you to develop this solution?
Pawan: I grew up in one of Asia’s largest villages and home to a large farming community with an abundance of crop production. Despite the productive land, I continually saw farmers challenged to fully benefit from this and knew one day I wanted to help change this. I am also extremely fascinated with UAV technology. Shefali and I met in school where we were studying this technology. It was there that we realized we could apply the technology to help automate and improve crop productivity at a low cost.
Additionally, PS-1925 has a mission to create drones that are manufactured in India and used in India as part of the principles of Make in India – manufactured, designed and developed in India itself.
For both of us, we find great satisfaction in knowing we are impacting the people of India every day.
How will winning a prize in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge help you advance your business? Do you know what you will use the prize money for specifically?
Shefali: Firstly, we are very thankful to Cisco for this opportunity and support. There are many ways the recognition and prize money will help us. We have successfully built a prototype and this will help us gain even more traction. It will help us as we embark on collaborative pilots with companies and continue working with software developers to further our platform.
Cisco is a worldwide leader in technology bringing impact in various domains. They inspire and empower global entrepreneurs like us who can help solve problems for social or environmental impact. Winning a prize in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge means industry validation by Cisco Technology experts and high-profile judges. This validation provides us a platform that opens more avenues and opportunities for us for advancement in technology and scaling our solution. Cisco has also provided us with a great opportunity for global recognition and publicity which can help us develop more connections, networks, collaborations and even investments.
We are planning on launching the MVP for some pre-sales traction in the coming months, which will set up a milestone for commercialization, go-to-market and business strategy. Parallel to business operations, we are planning to do more collaborative pilots for technological advancements. We will recruit more team members that can join our venture to take it towards growth. We are also looking for partnerships from companies all around the globe that would like to explore drone technology in the agriculture domain. So, here is a shout-out to all such companies – we would love to explore new avenues and opportunities by working with you.
Why did you decide to start your own social enterprise versus going to work for a company?
Pawan: My entire childhood I wanted to build things and as I mentioned before, I have grown up seeing direct challenges my community faces. Fast forward to meeting Shefali and I began to realize I could impact not just India, but the entire world. Our mutual passions and interests led us to founding PS-1925.
Shefali: As I’ve grown older and started thinking about a career, I knew I wanted to do something different to help people and make an impact. I have also always been fascinated with being an entrepreneur and similar to Pawaan, found UAV technology intriguing. Founding my own social enterprise is something that meant making my life extremely meaningful, following my dream to help people and make an impact on the world.
What is the best piece of advice you received about starting your social enterprise?
Shefali: We have been very lucky to have the mentorship and guidance of both Cisco and Boeing who have provided such valuable input in modifying our solution and business model. One piece of advice we haven’t forgotten is that “good people will listen to you at the right time”.
Stay tuned for more articles in our blog series, featuring interviews with every Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2020 winning team!
 P.K. Chakrabarty, assistant director general (plant protection and biosafety) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research via The Hindu Times, Feb 2017
 The Hindustan Times Mar 2018Tags: