Project 42 Greenlight: Hydrophonic tower for vertical plant watering

Hydrophonic tower and vertical plant watering

Vertical farming has the potential to become the future of urban agriculture. Convinced that the technology could significantly improve food production, student Kenneth Cheung decided to create 42 Silicon Valley’s first hydroponic tower.

Joined by seven other peers, Kenneth and his team developed the project that would provide the 42’s computer lab with food, fresh air, and peaceful atmosphere. Saving space and water with vertical farming and hydroponics, they designed a futuristic structure for the vegetable garden. For the hardware, a majority of the tower was printed via a 3D printer and, ingeniously, assembled together by the students at school. For the software, the main objective was to facilitate the upkeep of the plants as much as possible. With the use of an Arduino and Raspberry Pi, they were able to automate all notifications, scheduling and reminders so the only work left was to swap the water and eat the food!

self-watering-plant-1

In two weeks and with $365 funded by 42, they built the first prototype. They plan to write a step-by-step guide to give instructions, programs, advice and a list of materials needed to construct a salad tower. While they are still improving on their model, their dream is to, one day, fill the lab with a forest of these smart salad towers!

self-watering-plant

self-watering-plant

self-watering-plant

 

Interview with Truman, Greenlight Team Member

Name: Truman Chan

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Interests: all technology; self-driving cars, solar panels, A.I., virtual reality

“For me, this sums up 42: the right people come at the right time; everyone is here to help.”

What is the purpose of your project?

The idea came from Kenneth originally. He wanted to make a hydroponic tower, where plants can grow and be maintained automatically while using all kinds of technology to make it as cool as possible. He proposed the idea to the community and we liked that it was good for the lab. Growing food and sharing it is always a good thing.

How many are there on your team?

There were eight people that helped. We couldn’t have done it without them. Kenneth Cheung, Michael Morel, Chanel Fu, and I were the people lucky enough to present and get points for the project. Akia Vongdara did a lot of programming for the Pi and website backend. Isaac Rhett did a lot of the 3D modeling and provided key materials. When we worked through the night to hit our deadline, Andres Pineda and Sean Darsie showed up to help right as we ran into problems. For me, this experience sums up 42: the right people come at the right time; everyone is here to help.

How does the tower work?

It is a vertical hydroponic tower system, that means it grows plants by dropping water with nutrients in it, there is no soil. It is supposed to be entirely automated. Our tower has water, humidity, and light sensors connected to an Arduino and Raspberry Pi to control how much water and food the plants are getting. All we have to do is put the plants in. When it is ready to eat, we just have to take it out. It is connected to a website so we can check how it is doing every once in a while and replace the water as needed.

Describe the work you did for the project.

Most of my teammates specialized in specific areas. Most of what I did, in addition to the research for the plants, was group management: making sure that everyone’s parts came together at the right time, and that nobody got stuck, just making sure that nobody went crazy. For the plants, I decided to start with easy ones. We have lettuce, basil, peppermint, spearmint, parsley, and we also have an air-filtering plant which is called pothos. We included some that you can eat, some that smell good, and others that are beneficial to the air in the lab.

self-watering-plant

self-watering-plant

What was the most difficult part?

Since this was the first time for any of us doing something like this, logistics and planning was the most difficult part. When some of the parts didn’t quite fit, we had to decide whether we should buy new parts or try to hack a solution together. But we made it work, everybody figured out all the pieces.

What do you enjoy most about your project?

We had to work in a team, we had to learn about a lot of different fields: 3D modeling, webserver setup on a Pi, programming the Arduino. Everybody had to learn a little bit of different stuff and when we got together, we taught each other. It is refreshing when you hear the water trickle with living plants in the lab. When you walk in, it’s like nature, inside! A lot of people have said, “This is awesome! You should make a lot more — what if the whole lab was filled with these!”. A lot of people see the same vision as we do and I hope we realize that one day.

What kind of support did you receive from 42?

Kenneth came up with the idea and budget. I think the original estimate was around 300 to 400 dollars. He had all the items listed, so he proposed it to the school and secured the funding. The next day, we ordered everything online. 42 provided us with the space, funds, and great motivation – the project deadline.

What did you learn from this project?

Planning is really important, as is communicating with all the members. Different people work with different styles. Also making sure that everybody has enough space to be happy and productive. I can’t stress the planning enough. When we ordered products online, we had two weeks until the deadline. If parts didn’t work out, we had to wait another two, three days for another part to come or we’d have to go shop in person try and make it work. This is an unnecessary use of time. So proper planning saves a lot of time.

What future do you see for your project?

Our group has talked about this part a lot because we want this idea to continue even after our stay here. One of our steps after completing this tower is having a step by step guide of what we did and how to make it again So if someone else picks up the project, they can start the next iteration right where we left off. We want to have instructions, the materials list, software and hardware that we built, and have it all ready for the next group. Ideally we would have a whole forest of these salad towers. That would be the dream.

What is your dream job or your long-term career goals?

Wow, this question I often ask casually too, but it’s a deep question. You’re asking if I’ve found my purpose in life, if I know how I’ll influence the world, what I’ll be able to spend my life doing.

The projects I’m working on right now are pretty humble, but still greatly fulfilling, definitely little dreams of mine. I’m working on mobile app development interacting with animals! I also really appreciate the chance to help out this ag-tech venture. It ties in to my goals of owning a completely automated farm complete with lots of animal companions.

Past that my goals are much longer term. I see a lot of change coming with technology and society, and I’ll be working to make sure we don’t forget the human part of that equation.

published by Jennifer Robertson – October 26, 2017