SOE Students’ Weeding Hack Wins Big

With “Agri-istic Solutions” student team innovates, hacks and wins first prize at the 2019 Agrytech Hackathon.

By Raissa Batakji

El Chaer and Kassab receive the grand prize for Agri-istic Solutions.
From left: Bou Habib, Kassab and El Chaer during a field trip on the first day of the Hackathon.
El Chaer, Kassab and Bou Habib (far right) during one of the sessions.

Identifying the need for alternative weeding technology, a team of three mechanical engineering undergraduates set out to find a solution that rids farmers from weeds efficiently, without burdening them with additional labor and avoiding chemical pollutants.

The trio – Guadaluna El Chaer, Georgy Kassab and Fabio Bouhabib – came up with “Agri-istic Solutions,” a robot that uses single-shot laser technology to kill weeds with high accuracy.

Their proposal went on to win the grand prize at the 2019 Agrytech Hackathon in late August.

Asked about the process that led them to this idea, El Chaer said that they were adamant to solve not only a Lebanese, but “a universal pressing problem” by researching sustainable methods than could help farmers and consumers alike.

“Nothing excites an engineering student more than analyzing real-life problems that can be tackled with the skills gained along the way,” declared El Chaer. In fact, this goes in line with a university wide strategic plan to “deploy an integrated program of pedagogical innovation” and foster a culture of critical thinking.

The hackathon was a three-day event that helped young innovators design and fine tune their business models. Supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Lebanon and Berytech, it acts as a launch pad for those pitching their ideas to the Agrytech Accelerator, a program that aims to advance innovative ideas for the agricultural and food sectors. This year, a total of 21 teams pitched their ideas to judges from Berytech, BLC Bank, Robinson Agri, agricultural product wholesaler UNIFERT and Château Kefraya.

The winners also offered some background on how they came to participate in this event. “We first heard about it thanks to the LAU Fouad Makhzoumi Innovation Center in early 2018, and the Agrytech program has been on our radar since,” said Bouhabib, noting the value of the new learning experience and exposure that they received.

“Back in 2018, the three of us first decided to team up during the Instrumentation and Measurements course, and came up with an idea for a tomato grading machine,” explained Kassab.

Their course instructor at the time, Associate Professor and Assistant Provost Barbar Akle, encouraged them to devise innovative solutions to real-life problems – in line with LAU’s philosophy that puts student and faculty knowledge and creativity at the service of the larger community. “Coming out of that course, we were eager to build solutions, ones which the agricultural sector desperately needs,” added Kassab.

While the team refined their idea independently, they credit the experts at Berytech and Dr. Akle for their valuable support.

Apart from a monetary prize, the students have been admitted into the third batch of the Agrytech Accelerator program to further develop their business model over the coming two months.

In parallel, they will work closely with project advisors Dr. Akle and Dr. Ali Ammouri to develop the conceptual design of the field robot and the laser mechanism for exterminating weeds. The next step would be to develop the prototype, as they hope to propel their idea into the second phase of the program.

Dr. Akle commended the students’ robust drive to innovate. “The synergy created by our solid student-faculty interaction at LAU is unleashing our student’s creativity and enabling them to achieve their dreams.”