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2016 MSIT eBusiness Practicum Winner

RoBotany is a Pittsburgh-based startup co-founded by two Tepper School of Business MBA students dedicated to fully automated vertical farming. In vertical farming, many layers of crops are hydroponically grown on industrial racks in a controlled environment simulating year-round optimal growing conditions. They are especially effective in harsh climates where crops cannot grow outdoors or cities with limited space and typically result in yields per square foot that are 10x - 100x that of traditional agriculture. This has driven explosive market growth in recent years, and the industry is anticipated to grow five-fold by 2021.

Despite the efficacy of vertical farming, the process still has unsolved problems. For example, it can be fairly labor intensive, and still requires excessive production space for lift mechanisms and ladders. To ensure the long-term scalability and sustainability, RoBotany’s goal is to develop a fully automated vertical farm. This will enable control of temperature, light, moisture and other variables through a software platform that can also communicate with an autonomous transport robot (patent pending) to perform farm operations with minimal human intervention. Additionally, this platform would facilitate storage and retrieval of critical information about the system such as operations, sensors and schedule data for analytics.

MSIT eBusiness program faculty Sujata Telang, consulting faculty member Mike Horowitz, and Austin Webb from RoBotany, managed the student team.  Over the course of 9 weeks, the MSIT eBusiness Technology team worked with RoBotany to create this prototype software solution called the BRAIN (Backend Robotics and Autonomous Information System). The technologies used included Java, Node.js and the Particle Cloud platform for IoT, and Amazon Web Services for deployment. The prototype successfully configures, controls, and monitors the crops remotely. This was demonstrated by live-streaming footage from RoBotany’s Pittsburgh warehouse using the autonomous arm to retrieve a grow tray and water plants after the students sent the instructions using the prototype during the live presentation on Carnegie Mellon’s campus.

Congratulations to the seven-member MSIT eBusiness student team for winning the title Best Practicum and a prize of $18,000.

Are you interested in becoming a corporate sponsor for next year’s Practicum Competition? Please contact the Program Director, Dr. Michael Shamos at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.