Revolutionary AI-powered farming technology in the heart of Docklands
GAIA Project Australia is changing the way that we think about farming, with founder and CEO Nadun Hennayaka creating innovative indoor farming solutions that could help eliminate food security problems worldwide.
Formed between 2016 and 2017, Mr Hennayaka’s corporate IT and engineering background led to the creation of the GAIA start-up that now calls Docklands home.
The project focuses on renewable energy, waste management and indoor farming through AI-generated crop cultivation in the AgTech sector.
“Every square centimetre that you don’t use [in traditional farming] becomes wasted space – we built a modular cultivation system that follows the plants’ growth cycle,” Mr Hennayaka told Docklands News.
With this technology, the GAIA team has built an indoor farming prototype that is able to expand and change as crops grow, with a focus on growing leafy greens and herbs to combat global food problems in a way that minimises environmental impact.
According to Mr Hennayaka, a traditional farm can only grow 12 to 15 heads of lettuce per square metre, while a greenhouse can only produce 25 heads. GAIA’s current technology can produce 50 heads of lettuce per square metre.
“Everybody talks about sustainability, but the elephant in the room that no-one talks about is how we can adapt our technology for it – this is where we come in,” Mr Hennayaka said.
As well as aiming to find food solutions on Earth, the “space arm” of the GAIA project has also been working on a prototype that lives in Docklands to grow produce on long-duration space shuttle flights.
GAIA partnered with NASA in 2021 on the Deep Space Food Challenge to do just that in upcoming missions to Mars.
Mr Hennayaka said that they hoped to build a new prototype for NASA in the next 12 months.
“There’s a lot going on so far, but we try to do as much as we can because before we go to Mars, we need to fix problems over here,” Mr Hennayaka said.
One of the ways GAIA aims to improve food security on Earth is through “building commercial greenhouse projects” which they hope to be available in Victoria in the first half of 2024.
“People’s homes is something that we’re looking at,” Mr Hennayaka said.
“We can’t fix the entire world food problem, but we can certainly help to fix around 20 to 30 per cent which is still a great number globally.”
Mr Hennayaka said that the GAIA project base in Docklands was the ideal location to house their technology while also introducing potential investors to the area.
“We looked around Melbourne, but I think Docklands was always the nice, quiet area [where] we wanted to put our roots down.”
Invest Melbourne, an initiative of the City of Melbourne to attract new business to the municipality, has also “collaborated” with GAIA during the past years to help connect the start-up to international partners. Mr Hennayaka said that the dialogue with the council was “something [we] can always benefit from.” •