Teens build app to assist growers
WARREN TOWNSHIP — Three young men from Watchung Hills Regional High School used their computer and technical skills to assist gardeners and farmers in detecting plant diseases. In the process, they won first place with their “Farm Net” in the Congressional App Challenge for New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District.
The challenge was started in 2015 under former Congressman Leonard Lance and taken up by Rep. Tom Malinowski.
The high school juniors, Arjun Singh, Sameer Surapaneni and Jay Fu created an app after Singh and Fu worked on a year-long climate change project that used computer programming skills to combat climate change and other environmental issues.
Fu found a data set of plant diseases and Surapaneni came up with the idea of creating an app to use with photos of plants with diseases.
This way the farmers, gardeners and even consumers can find out what is ailing their plants without consulting experts.
Surapaneni found information on the Congressional App Challenge and they decided to enter their project.
Fu explained their choice of project in an e-mail: “My team and I created FarmNet because we noticed a serious problem in the fields of agriculture and gardening: plant diseases that would devastate entire plots of land.”
The teens are adept at computers and machine learning.
Singh said it took about two weeks to develop the app. They did the work on their own time, since this was not a school project.
Surapaneni said it was easier to develop the app for Google Play, but Apple support was helpful so they were able to put it on both platforms.
They used a combination of two coding languages, Swift and Python. Surapaneni said Python is one of the best tools for machine learning and Swift is necessary to create an interface.
Singh said theoretically the app could be expanded for many tasks: detecting edible plants in a jungle, charting soil types and others.
Although all three teens said they were surprised that they won, Fu said, “We believe we won because our app was built to solve a serious real-world problem using ‘machine learning,’ a hot topic nowadays.”
Surapaneni said the competition was very stiff.
The three met with Malinowski over Zoom when they discovered they won. Zoom was also the platform they used to work together. “We just didn’t want to handle social distancing,” Singh said.
They will all carry their computer skills into the future in one way or another. Fu plans on majoring in either computer science or statistics in college.
Surapaneni said he is more interested in chemistry. Singh is looking toward a career in entrepreneurship and technology.