Growing innovation with Mobilab

In the coming months, farmers in the Occitanie region could well see a strange rolling object arrive in their fields. The mobilab developed by Le mas numérique Institut Agro and Occitanumis an itinerant fab-lab offering agricultural and viticultural professionals the chance to familiarize themselves with digital tools and other connected objects, and even to build their own innovative devices. The Mobilab tour 2024 is just a few weeks away with Simon Moinard, project manager.

" The low-tech approach , also known as do it yourself, is deeply rooted in farming culture. Farmers and stockbreeders are used to making their own tools adapted to the needs of their farms ", notes Simon Moinard, head of the AgroTIC mobilab at Institut Agro Montpellier ( PUI partner). To support farmers in their desire to optimize their practices, Simon Moinard travels the countryside of the Hérault region at the wheel of the mobilab.

Exploring new avenues

This mobile workshop, built in a van, aims to bring innovation to farmers directly in their workplace. " People often think that the world of agriculture and the world of digital technology can't understand each other, but that's not true! Farmers love to tinker, and if we show them how digital technology works with a "low-tech" approach, they're quite open to new things, specifying solutions that could provide a concrete answer to their needs... Especially if the solution is simple, fast and inexpensive! Some of them become real geeks," continues the manager. And in fact, since 2019, over 1,300 people have been reached. That's all it took to motivate the team to develop a second version of the project with a fully-equipped van: 3D printer, drone, sensors of all kinds, tools... Enough to make co-construction as close as possible to the cow floor.

Travelling to meet farmers in this way enables the Institut Agro team to explore new avenues by identifying their needs and possible solutions. On the podium of his small successes Simon Moinard cites " Coup de pouce, a 3D-printed finger that activates an irrigation pump via a simple SMS. Thanks to this little device, which cost just 20 euros, you don't have to travel many kilometers every day to turn your pump on or off. Another example is AgroCam, an instrument for monitoring crops throughout the season, thanks to the creation of a timelapse: " every day at midday, a photo of the plot is taken automatically, enabling us to see the evolution of the plants from day to day. There are a plethora of uses for farmers. To share these ideas with as many people as possible, each of these innovations is then the subject of a video tutorial available to all and posted on the Mobilab website.

Between tech and earth

The mobilab is also a training facility, with the aim of popularizing new technologies among this audience. " We sometimes come across farmers who have bought sensors but, without support, don't use them properly. We take the time to explain to them how these tools work, so that they can make the best use of them. And the gains can sometimes be very significant for these workers of the land: time savings, as we saw with " Coup de pouce ", water savings with soil moisture sensors, ecological gains thanks to day-by-day crop monitoring, which notably help to reduce the use of phytosanitary products. " We're seeing the arrival on the market of some brilliant new sensors that can measure the photosynthetic indicator of plants, for example," adds the engineer.  

To build lasting bridges between technology and the land, the AgroTIC mobilab is preparing to extend its project to agricultural high schools, to train future farmers in digital tools from the outset. The mobilab is largely supported by the Occitanie region via Occitanum, a scheme coordinated byInrae and bringing together over 46 partners involved in the agro-ecological transition. Second funder: Mas Numérique, a demonstration site for innovative technologies, this time aimed at winegrowers. Located at the Institut Agro's Domaine du Chapitre in Villeneuve-les-Maguelones, this other living lab also aims to bring technology to the fields, thanks to the support of fourteen corporate sponsors: connected weather station, disease prediction model, spray adjustment, regulatory traceability of pesticides... After a short tour of Burgundy and Champagne in February, Simon Moinard will embark on a Mobilab Tour 2024 with the aim of making one visit a day during a week in May. Innovation in the service of agro-ecology is on the way.

Montpellier University Innovation Cluster (PUI)

The Institut Agro is one of the fourteen founding members of the Pôle Universitaire d'Innovation de Montpellier (PUI), led by the University of Montpellier. The PUI's objectives are to encourage partnership research between laboratories and companies, develop technology transfer and stimulate business start-ups. Today, the PUI has 38 member organizations from higher education, research, the socio-economic world and Montpellier's innovation ecosystem.