Amin Afzal and His $1 Billion Leafy Sensor

The sensor revolution rolls on . . . propelled by drought.


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Less well known is the second half of that quote: “And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

As we reported on these pages in April and February, the opportunity of the California drought has mobilized innovations that not only aid water conservation but create new opportunities in the marketplace. And with at least eight states and a dozen nations experiencing drought conditions, it is no wonder abundant talent is being dedicated to solutions that are of public service and marketable — the perfect formula for true innovation.

Pennsylvania State University School of Agricultural Sciences reports on Amin Afzal, inventor of the “leafy sensor,” which is, effectively, a virtual extension of a plant’s own capacity to sense moisture. Afzal was inspired by conditions in his home nation, Iran:

“Water is a big issue in our country,” says Afzal. He has spent much of the last decade in labs, greenhouses and fields in Isfahan and now at Penn State, developing the “Leafy” sensor that attaches directly to a plant leaf and measures its moisture content, to water a plant at the optimum time.

Water too soon and the farmer will have wasted precious water — and money. Water too late, and the farmer will have damaged the plant and yield — losing money.

Using technology that measures moisture content directly in the plant leaf, and encased in a plastic clip that does not damage the plant leaf, Afzal’s Leafy device determines the critical moment for irrigation.

Afzal teamed with MBA students to develop a marketing and distribution strategy. According to UPenn, “They estimated the product’s market potential to be more than $1 billion.”

For more on Afazal and the leafy sensor follow this link.