Three Tipperary teenagers put a lot of work and time but very little money into developing a mass sensor so farmers know how much feed they are giving to their animals.
Developed by students from St Joseph's College, Borrisoleigh, Co Tipperary, the weighing sensor is one of the 550 shortlisted projects on display at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSB).
The second-year students spent almost a year developing a sensor and a mobile phone app so that a farmer knows how much meal or silage is in the bucket of a tractor loader.
The prototype developed by Lochlainn Hodgins, 14, Dylan Ryan and David Conway, both aged 13, cost just €5 to make. The boys took apart a weighing scales given to them by a local supermarket and used the load cell.
Currently, diet feeders that dispense food in known quantities cost around €30,000 but only large farmers would have access to one because of the cost.
The boys' teacher, Ms Mary Gorey, who won a Teacher of Excellence award at the exhibition in 2018, said the students taught themselves the basics of coding.
After moving on to the specific coding design needed for their tractor sensor app the boys approached Abbey Machinery in Nenagh, Co Tipperary.
The company specialises in diet feeders and other farming equipment and the boys got advice on where best to place the sensor on the loader.
Lochlainn said they spent a lot of time in the manufacturing plant looking at different ways they could develop their prototype called the DLD Sensor, so named using the first letter of the boy's names.
Lochlainn said over and under-feeding cattle is a big problem in farming.
"Over and underfeeding dairy cows affects the cell count of the milk produced, which can result in a lower milk price," he said.
“If a cow is being overfed she can find it hard to calve and if she is underfed she could become lame.”
Another promising project on display at the exhibition is “Bin Buddy” a smart sorting bin developed by students from Castletroy College, Co Limerick.
First-year students, James O'Malley and Cathal O'Mara, both aged 13, developed the bin so that it recognises whether the waste is compostable or recyclable.
“We used a camera and a monitor together with a motorised chute to automatically send the rubbish to the correct bin,” said James.
“You don't have to think about your rubbish – throw it in the Bin Buddy and it decides,” said Cathal.
“We're sick of seeing green bins that have been contaminated because just one item has been thoughtlessly thrown into it,” said James.
Also showcasing their talents at the exhibition are primary school children who are using science and technology to tackle issues of concern to them.
The annual Primary Science Fair that takes place alongside the BTSB provides a starting point for younger students to get involved in science.
One eye-catching project on display – Growing Smelly Grass - is the work of pupils from Timoleague National School in Co Cork.
Their teacher, Anne McCarthy, said the 18 sixth class pupils compared fertilisers made from organic matter and found how they worked differently.
They compared organic matter from local farms and the school garden with an organic tomato feed.
Bonnie Hegarty O'Brien, said they converted the raw material into tea-based fertilisers and then tried to grow grass in the classrooms under the best possible conditions.
Donagh Flynn said it was very difficult to weigh the grass to make sure it was a fair process but he enjoyed being involved in the project.
Students from Gaelscoil Dr Uí Shilleabháin, Skibbereen, Co Cork, learned that there was an awful lot more plastic in their environment than they first thought.
The 22 pupils from 4th to 6th class involved in the project did a beach clean but found that their efforts were not enough to clear it all.
One of the items on display was a nest that a little bird built using what appeared to be plastic baling twine.
Sixth class pupil, Ruadhán Hurley, said they were going to spread the word throughout Skibbereen about the need to use less plastic.
The winner of the BTYSB who will be announced on Friday night will represent Ireland at the 32nd EU Contest for Young Scientists later this year in Santander, Spain.