A water- and labor-conserving Smart Garden that took shape in a lab in SUNY Oswego's Shineman Center earned three senior electrical and computer engineering majors third place in the student poster competition at the 17th annual New York State Green Building Conference in Syracuse.

The Smart Garden project by Samantha Carey, Zachary Gathmann and David Ng Lee was previous presented at the college's April 3 Quest celebration of research and scholarly activity before impressing judges at the April 17 conference.

The students' pre-graduation capstone project, the gravity-fed prototype relies on programmable, wireless communication modules transmitting data -- including how much water any individual plant needs -- from sensors for temperature, humidity and soil moisture to flow-metered valves.

The Smart Garden project has meant long hours into nights for electrical and computer engineering (ECE) students .

Computerized watering systems are not a new idea -- predecessors in the electrical and computer engineering program even presented a version of a Smart Garden at last year's Quest -- but Carey, Gathmann and Lee seek to improve on the design, making it simpler, more efficient and perhaps even scalable commercially.

Gathmann, of Fabius, worked at a nursery in high school, and believes there's potential for the team's prototype. "If we could develop something that cuts labor costs significantly, maybe we could put this into real-world applications," he said.

'A good community'

Lee, a student from Honduras, said the students are putting to work some of the lessons they have learned in their ECE courses, particularly department chair Rachid Manseur's "Microprocessor Applications" and in Mario Bkassiny's "Communications Systems."

"That's why this project goes hand-in-hand with our major," Lee said. "It integrates the electrical with the computer."

Carey, of Dansville, said that last fall the team worked on the design for the capstone project, then the members hunted for parts they could use. "This semester, we're actually putting it together," she said. "Right now, we have most of our sensors tested."

The sensors are distributed to monitor individual plants -- tomatoes, beans and so on -- delivering precisely the right amount of water at the right time, thanks to communication modules programmed to take variable conditions into account, including the water demand of each variety of plant. It is a long way from giant rotating irrigation arms sweeping water across entire fields' worth of plants.

Carey switched her major to ECE after taking a careers and majors exploration course in her freshman residence, Johnson Hall, and after completing aptitude testing through SUNY Oswego's student success center, the Compass.

"I know all of the upperclassmen in ECE," she said. "We are all friendly and help each other -- it's a good community. There are small class sizes and we get to know our professors."

Lee said he enjoys the Shineman Center's classroom setup for ECE courses, where students can face forward for lectures and discussions, then pivot their chairs to work with state-of-the-art equipment directly behind them.

"This major is going to get much bigger worldwide, very soon," he said. "Everything is digital, many things are wireless."

Gathmann transferred to SUNY Oswego after earning an associate's degree in general studies. He gravitated to ECE because of his interest in tinkering with cars and other equipment, and because of a family interest -- several aunts and uncles are engineers.

"I have an interest in power systems, so I'll look for power engineering jobs locally or power generation -- I had an internship at Nine Mile Point last summer," he said.

The New York State Green Building Conference  is considered the premier conference of its type in the Northeast, attracting industries including architecture, engineering, construction, consulting, deconstruction, landscape architecture, government, higher education, K-12 education, state agencies, real estate and management firms.

For more information on electrical and computer engineering at SUNY Oswego, visit the ECE website, call 315-312-6597 or email ece@oswego.edu.