Technology takes root on a traditional farm near Barcelona

Xavier Pedrosa, a hard-working farmer whose family has lived near Barcelona since the Middle Ages, never had much need for technology. In an age when many farmers have gone high tech, he still favors traditional, organic methods to grow cereal crops, olives and vegetables.

Then one day, his daughter, Rut, met Joaquim Oller. Joaquim was about to begin his doctorate in telecommunications engineering at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) and Rut was about to begin her doctorate in marine biogeochemistry at the University of Barcelona.

Their friendship blossomed into romance, and within a few years the traditional farmer had an idea-generating, high-tech whiz for a son-in-law.

Joaquim Oller and wife, Rut“Rut and her family are like magicians on the farm, while I don’t know anything about farming,” said Joaquim, who now lives with Rut in Cape Cod, Mass. “But I do enjoy making life easier for people.”

Joaquim began designing a device that can tell Xavier when his crops need water or when the soil is wet or dry enough to work it. His design, however, faced several challenges: It had to be easy to use, inexpensive, and not rely on batteries or solar panels in order to preserve the farm’s commitment to green operations.

Joaquim created a simple device featuring our MSP430™ microcontroller (MCU) to help Xavier monitor the level of moisture in the soil he farms. A battery-free sensor placed in the soil connects wirelessly to a smartphone app and provides information that helps him know when to plow and when to irrigate.

“I said to Rut, ‘Is this something your father would use?’ She told me, ‘Among all your silly ideas, this is a good one.’”

Early love of technology

Joaquim began his love affair with technology as a child at his home in a village near the ancient city of Girona, about 100 kilometers northeast of Barcelona. Founded in 79 BC, Girona’s rulers have included Romans and Visigoths. Charlemagne captured it in 785. In more modern times, the city’s cathedrals, winding alleys and plazas have played a leading role in the blockbuster show Game of Thrones.

But despite all the history, Joaquim’s childhood was focused on computers. He began programming at 10, excelled in school and earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree and doctorate in telecommunications engineering from UPC, which is a science hub in Southern Europe.

As a professional, Joaquim has worked on projects for many companies, universities and clients through the years. He has deployed radio-frequency identification (RFID) payment technology for public-transportation systems, biometric readers, wake-up radio systems, sub-GHz nodes, agriculture designs, capacitive user interfaces and a host of other projects.

As a researcher, he developed expertise in low-power microcontrollers and Bluetooth® low energy (BLE) technology. As part of the Wireless Networks Group research lab at UPC, he conducted the technical performance evaluation of a scientific paper that became a primary BLE resource. The paper, which references our technology extensively, has been downloaded about 50,000 times.

As a member of TI’s engineer-to-engineer (E2E™) community, Joaquim has engaged in nearly 1,000 online conversations to help others understand technology and overcome design challenges. His E2E username is Kazola. E2E, which launched in 2008, is a technical support community of nearly 300,000 engineers and TI experts spanning more than 200 countries who collaborate by asking and answering technical questions, sharing knowledge, exploring new ideas and solving problems.

Technology as a farm tool

Technology takes root on a traditional farm near BarcelonaXavier’s farm, anchored by a home his ancestors originally built some 1,300 years ago, is at the base of the jagged Monserrat range, which is widely known for an ancient mountaintop Benedictine monastery. In addition to crops, he has begun raising goats for milk and cheese and to help control brush as part of a European project to prevent wildfires.

In such an idyllic place, technology is being introduced gradually. But if Joaquim’s idea saves money, time and water, Xavier may find other uses for it in the future.

“Technology has to be employed as an additional tool and not as a substitute one,” Xavier said. “The main tool for successful farming is and will always be human knowledge and intuition.”