How FPGA and cloud technology can reduce our climate impact

This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: New blog articles in Microsoft Tech Community.

Sustainability is rapidly becoming imperative rather than just a desirable goal as investors, regulators, and consumers alike expect businesses to reduce their impact on the planet.


Internet of Things (IoT) technology is already enabling solutions that accurately track factory emissions, control smart lighting to reduce energy use, and help fight deforestation as just a few examples. Using low-power sensors and edge devices can also be more sustainable than relying solely on centralized data centers.


In an effort to inspire more sustainable solutions, Microsoft Azure and Intel have partnered with Terasic to put on the InnovateFPGA Design Contest to encourage developers from around the globe to create innovative solutions that reduce environmental impacts. Each qualified developer team received an Azure-Certified Terasic Cloud Dev. Kit, which includes an Intel® Edge-Centric Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) that connects with Azure IoT services.


By improving efficiency and resource use, enabling smart farming practices, and helping to monitor pollutants, IoT solutions are useful tools in sustainability efforts. A survey for the latest Microsoft IoT Signals report found 73 percent of IoT adopters with near-term sustainability goals view IoT implementation as very important for progress toward sustainability goals. And as IoT and edge AI technologies enable a new era of distributed intelligence that is transforming all types of industries, they open new ways for organizations to improve their sustainability.


Innovative ideas to improve sustainability


Teams competing in the InnovateFPGA Design Contest submitted a variety of innovative ideas surrounding the contest’s theme of “Connecting the Edge for a Sustainable Future.”


The Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program (GEF SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development Program, collaborated with the contest to encourage solutions for sustainable agriculture, marine conservation, and biodiversity. In support of this effort, some finalists aimed to address the following:


  • Farm and agriculture: An automatic management system for mini-greenhouses could be used to grow food and plants in apartments and other urban households, and data could be stored in the Azure cloud to help consumers to grow their own food with good yields. A separate sustainable agriculture solution is designed to perform soil tests and choose suitable crops, recommend the required amount and type of fertilizer needed, monitor for weeds and pests, automatically water the crops, and store useful data on the Azure cloud to guide farmers. A solar-powered smart farm system autonomously measures climatic conditions, waters crops, and can trigger a fire suppression system or security alarm if needed. Finally, a proposed solution designed to control temperature and other conditions to prolong the ripening of mangoes can keep them fresh while they’re being transported to market.
  • Marine life conservation: This underwater microbial delivery solution is designed to deliver coral probiotics that can slow bleaching and allow coral recovery and monitor their efficacy. The delivery from this solar-powered solution connected to the Azure cloud is regulated by a deep learning network that monitors the color change of corals.


Beyond sustainable agriculture and coral reef recovery, other finalists used this as an opportunity to use edge-centric FPGAs and the cloud to address other climate-impacting factors, such as waste, energy, and wellness:


  • Health and wellness: A carbon dioxide gas sensor aims to provide a low-power system that can monitor homes and buildings for ventilation levels and the associated risk of airborne infection. A mental health monitoring solution incorporates the connectivity kit and Azure cloud to gather and process information by sensors connected to a glove, which is augmented by image data of facial reactions. This solution combines that data, looking for key markers of stress or mental health disorders, and recommends treatments.
  • Waste handling: An automatic medical waste sorting solution can identify and remove hazardous items from garbage and improve the sorting of recyclables. 
  • Energy management: This energy converter management system is designed to more efficiently collect local point-of-use energy data that can be used to control electricity generation at a local level.
  • Autonomous vehicles and transportation: This intelligent road damage detection solution uses 3D lidar and cameras to collect and analyze road data in real time. The system is designed to improve the sustainable life of urban roadways and prevent damage and injuries. As drone delivery of packages starts to replace deliveries by emissions-producing vehicles, this solution is designed to monitor for potentially dangerous atmospheric conditions in urban areas. The system would deploy a scout drone to detect atmospheric turbulence generated around buildings by windy conditions or city thermals, thus avoiding potential crashes.


How Intel FPGA and Microsoft Azure services work jointly


These solutions all use the FPGA Cloud Connectivity Kit, which features a Terasic DE10-Nano kit with an Intel Cyclone FPGA board and incorporates Wi-Fi, a nine-axis movement sensor, an ambient light sensor, humidity and temperature sensors, analog-to-digital capabilities, and more. The platform also connects seamlessly with Microsoft Azure IoT Central and IoT Hub cloud services that can store and analyze data, as well as direct automated actions. Additional sensors from ADI can be added to the dev kit to support a wider range of IoT capabilities as well.


Bringing together these Intel and Microsoft device-to-cloud technologies allows developers to take advantage of our combined strengths for solution builders. With components and services designed to work together, we can simplify and accelerate the development of innovative solutions without unneeded technical complications.


Learn more as the InnovateFPGA contest names a winner


As the InnovateFPGA Design Contest prepares to hold its grand final round at the end of June, we encourage you to explore what these 11 finalists have developed, as well as learn more about the contest and Intel FPGAs. Additionally, visit The Intelligent Edge website to see solutions empowered by Intel and Microsoft Azure.

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