Hackaday Prize Entry: Automated Hydroponics

This team project for the Hackaday Prize is a solution to a rather important problem. Imagine growing plants for use as biomarkers for pollution. It’s a great idea, but how do you grow the plants in the first place? This team is building a space-saving hydroponic system that packs the most green into the least amount of space. It’s simple, and can be built almost entirely with parts from the local home supply store.

The design of this hydroponic system is based on a few PVC pipes, arranged vertically, joined together with a few 90 degree bends. In each course of pipe, a few holes are drilled to accept a plastic cup. This cup is filled with some sort of growing medium, and the Genuino-based controller takes care of everything else. Watering the plants, turning the lights on and off, and recording the nutrient concentration of the water is all possible with a simple microcontroller.

Right now the team has a huge stack of perforated PVC pipe and a Genuino-based brain box that takes care of everything plants need. It’s going to take a bit of time for the plants to grow, but this is still one of the most compact hydroponic systems we’ve seen.

You can check out a video of the entire setup below.

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Working in Peace With an Off-Grid Office Shed

Finding a good work space at home isn’t a trivial task, especially when you’ve got a wife and kid. A lot of us use a spare bedroom, basement, or garage as a space to work on our hobbies (or jobs). But, the lack of true separation from the home can make getting real work done difficult. For many of us, we need to have the mental distance between our living space and our working space in order to actually get stuff done.

This is the problem [Syonyk] had — he needed a quiet place to work that was separated from the rest of his house. To accomplish this, he used a Tuff Shed and set it up to run off-grid. The reason for going off-grid wasn’t purely environmental, it was actually more practical than trying to run power lines from the house. Because of the geology where he lives, burying power lines wasn’t financially feasible.

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Add Robotic Farming to Your Backyard with Farmbot Genesis

Growing your own food is a fun hobby and generally as rewarding as people say it is. However, it does have its quirks and it definitely equires quite the time input. That’s why it was so satisfying to watch Farmbot push a weed underground. Take that!

Farmbot is a project that has been going on for a few years now, it was a semifinalist in the Hackaday Prize 2014, and that development time shows in the project documented on their website. The robot can plant, water, analyze, and weed a garden filled with arbitrarily chosen plant life. It’s low power and low maintenance. On top of that, every single bit is documented on their website. It’s really well done and thorough. They are gearing up to sell kits, but if you want it now; just do it yourself.

The bot itself is exactly what you’d expect if you were to pick out the cheapest most accessible way to build a robot: aluminum extrusions, plate metal, and 3D printer parts make up the frame. The brain is a Raspberry Pi hooked to its regular companion, an Arduino. On top of all this is a fairly comprehensive software stack.

The user can lay out the garden graphically. They can get as macro or micro as they’d like about the routines the robot uses. The robot will happily come to life in intervals and manage a garden. They hope that by selling kits they’ll interest a whole slew of hackers who can contribute back to the problem of small scale robotic farming.

A Grounded Option for the Jet-Setting Homebody

Over the course of 10 years, [Bruce Campbell] has built himself a sleek pad out of a Boeing 727-200 in the middle of the picturesque Oregon countryside.

As you’d expect, there are a number of hurdles to setting up a freaking airplane as one’s home in the woods. Foremost among them, [Campbell] paid $100,000 for the aircraft, and a further $100,000 for transportation and installation costs to get it out to his tract of land — that’s a stiff upfront when compared to a down payment on a house and a mortgage. However, [Campbell] asserts that airplanes approaching retirement come up for sale with reasonable frequency, so it’s possible to find something at a lower price considering the cost of dismantling an airframe often compares to the value of the recovered materials.

Once acquired and transported, [Campbell] connected the utilities through the airplane’s existing systems, as well going about modifying the interior to suit his needs — the transparent floor panels are a nice touch! He has a primitive but functional shower, the two lavatories continue to function as intended, sleeping, dining and living quarters, and a deck in the form of the plane’s wing.

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This Motorless Pull-Behind Mower is Made From Junk

Cutting a field of grass is a straightforward and satisfying process, given a suitably powered mover. A tractor with a rotary topper to hang on its three-point linkage and power-take-off will make short work of the task.

[Donn DIY] had an agricultural quad-bike, but when it came to mowing its lack of a power-take-off meant it wasn’t much use. When he saw a home-made mower for a quad-bike online he had to give it a go himself, and came up with his own take on a mower made from junk.

He started with the rear axle and differential from a Russian built Lada, which he reconditioned, before mounting in a wooden jig with its input shaft pointing upwards. He then made a frame for three mower shafts, onto which he mounted his custom-made rotors and their machined bearing housings. Some pulley machining, and he could then link the rotor shafts to the differential with a series of V-belts and a further shaft to step up the rotor speed.

He wasn’t finished there, after the rotors came a lever mechanism for lifting the cutters off the ground, and a pair of weight baskets to ensure traction was maintained. The result is a mover that takes its drive from its wheels, and cuts grass very effectively when towed behind the quad-bike. The unguarded blades would probably give a farm insurance assessor an apoplexy, but for the purposes of the video below the break at least we can see everything.

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Solar Powered Hydroponics

[Dan Bowen] describes the construction of a backyard hydroponics set-up in an angry third person tirade. While his friends assume more nefarious, breaking, and bad purposes behind [Dan]’s interest in hydroponics; he’d just like some herbs to mix into the occasional pasta sauce.

Feel particularly inspired one day after work, he stopped by the local hardware store and hydroponics supply. He purchases some PVC piping, hoses, fittings, pumps, accessories, and most importantly, a deck box to hide all the ugly stuff from his wife.

The design is pretty neat. He has an open vertical spot that gets a lot of light on his fence. So he placed three lengths of PVC on a slant. This way the water flows quickly and aerates as it goes. The top of the pipes have holes cut in them to accept net baskets.

The deck box contains a practically industrial array of sensors and equipment. The standard procedure for small-scale hydroponics is just to throw the water out on your garden and replace the nutrient solution every week or so. The hacker’s solution is to make a rubbermaid tote bristle with more sensors than the ISS.

We hope his hydroponics set-up approaches Hanging Gardens of Babylon soon.

Build A Rhizotron: Image The World Beneath Your Feet

The world of the subsoil is a fascinating place. Our whole ecosystem depends on its variety of fungus, bacteria and detritivore creatures that break down and decay dead matter and provide the nutrients to sustain plants that bring in the energy from the sun.

It’s easy enough to study what is happening beneath the surface, just reach for a trowel. But of course, that’s an imperfect technique, for it only gives a picture of a world you have destroyed, and then at best only a snapshot.

Fungal hypha growth in action
Fungal hypha growth in action

What if you could image underground, take pictures and video of the decay process and the creatures that are its engine? [Josh Williams] was curious how this could be achieved, so after early experiments with buried webcams proved unimpressive he created the Rhizotron. A flatbed scanner waterproofed for burial with plenty of silicone, and driven by a Raspberry Pi. The result was particularly successful, and though he has lost several scanners to water ingress he has collected some impressive imagery which he has posted on the project’s blog. Below the break we’ve included one of his videos taken with the scanner in a compost bucket, in which you can see decomposition aplenty, mating millipedes, spreading fungal hyphae and much more.

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