Janani Prasad (’23) wins first in Alameda County Science Fair


Janani Prasad

Last year, Janani Prasad (’23) embarked on a journey to create an AI drone to ease the life of areca nut farmers.

Engineering and agriculture. Two words that aren’t often associated together–unless you’re Janani Prasad (23). Last year, Prasad embarked on a mission to invent a device that could monitor areca nuts (the seed of the areca palm) for ripeness. This month, her project, known as ADAM, won first place in the Alameda County Science Fair, out of over 200 competitors. 

An aspiring STEM major, Prasad thought joining the Alameda County Science Fair would encourage her to pursue a career in Environmental science. The science fair has multiple tracks people can participate in, including computer science, biology, and agriculture. Her project, an AI drone-based areca nut system, was entered in the PEAS category (Plant, Science Ecology, Agriculture and Environmental science).

“I took on this project with the mindset that farmers will no longer need to hire tree climbers to go and inspect crop conditions, and the stress of finding workers will be alleviated because nowadays it is becoming increasingly difficult to find young aged people because they are moving away from the agricultural sector and away from hard labor,” said Prasad 

The passion that started in middle school with computer science and engineering, has driven Prasad to help the lives of those who are struggling, especially those within the rural places of India.

Prasad inputed over 100 areca nut samples to calibrate ADAM and ensure her device could accurately predict the ripeness of areca nuts. (Janani Prasad)

“My grandparents are areca nut farmers and I have seen them struggle with managing their farm the last few years. There is a shortage of laborers and because of that many of their crops are going to waste and they are earning less income. And I wanted to help them,” said Prasad

Farms consist of tall palm-like trees towering at 10 to 20 meters with areca nut bunches located directly under the canopy, making it a struggle for farmers to harvest these nuts which are valued highly in the Indian market.

The ADAM project was made to automate areca nut crop monitoring by providing a safe, affordable, user-friendly, and cutting-edge system using a drone, AI/ML Mask R-CNN prediction model, and smartphone app. 

After working on this project for a year, Prasad not only won the science fair, but also created a plan to get rid of pesticides. Pesticides harm the areca nuts and release chemicals that can destroy an ecosystem. Her AI aims to make farm work easier.

“Normally farmers spray pesticides all over their farms and not only on the infected areca nuts, but that is very harmful for the environment because the toxins from the chemicals build up and destroy the ecosystem. Using my research, we can have targeted application of pesticides by identifying which nuts are infected and spraying it only on those,” said Prasad.

With the hope of getting into international competitions such as ISEF, Prasad had dedicated over a year towards developing ADAM, with the help of her father. She hopes to continue this path of engineering and wished to enter with a different project next year to aid the farmers at a larger scale.

“This project has definitely solidified my interest in tech and I plan on pursuing a career in that route,” said Prasad.