Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Big Data and Big Agriculture

For their entry to the Hackaday Prize, the team behind SentriFarm is solving a big problem for farmers in Australia. Down there, farms are big, and each paddock must be checked daily. This means hours of driving every day. Surely a bunch of sensors and some radio links would help, right?

This is the idea behind SentriFarm: a ground station that reads air temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind speed and direction, rain, light, UV and smoke, and relays that back to a central node. Yes, it’s basically a wireless weather station, but the sheer distance these sensors must transmit adds some interesting complexity.

The SentriFarm team is hoping to get about 10km out of their radio system, and they’re using a long-range, low power radio module to do it. This data is received by the ubiquitous radio towers found on Australian farms and sent to a database on the farm’s network. This data can be combined with data from the local weather service to get an accurate picture of exactly what’s happening in each paddock.

You can check out the SentriFarm project video below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Time for the Prize: Big Water

I inadvertently started a vigorous debate a few weeks ago with the Time for the Prize post about a shower feedback loop. That debate was on the effect of curbing household water since households make up a relatively small percentage of total use. I think we should be thinking of solutions for all parts of the problem and so this week we’ll be looking for ideas that can help conserve water in large-scale use cases. Primarily these are agricultural and industrial but if you know of others feel free to make your case.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, about 80% of all ground and surface water is used in agriculture. I’m not particularly interested in hearing a debate on water rights and the like (there’s a rather interesting article here if you want more on that). The agriculture industry produces food, and employs a lot of people. The conflict is of course long growing season versus lack of water compounded by severe drought. Even if we could move our food production elsewhere it would be a monumental undertaking to also relocate the infrastructure supporting it. Of course we need to look to the future, but can we leverage our engineering prowess now to conserve the water that is being used right now?

Enter with an Idea

Write down your ideas for agricultural and industrial water conservation as a project on Hackaday.io. Tag the project 2015HackdayPrize. Do this by next Monday and you’re in the running for this week’s awesome prizes.

You aren’t necessarily committing yourself to finishing out the build. At this point we want to get the idea machine rolling. One good idea could spark the breakthrough that makes a real difference in the world.

This Week’s Prizes


We’ll be picking three of the best ideas based on their potential to help alleviate a wide-ranging problem, the innovation shown by the concept, and its feasibility. First place will receive a DSLogic 16-channel Logic Analyzer. Second place will receive a an Adafruit Bluefruit Bluetooth Low Energy sniffer. Third place will receive a Hackaday robot head tee.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

We Have a Problem: Food Supply

Hackaday, we have a problem. Supplying fresh, healthy food to the world’s population is a huge challenge. And if we do nothing, it will only get more difficult. Rising water prices and (eventually) rising fuel prices will make growing and transporting food more costly. Let’s leverage our collective skill and experience to chip away at this problem. We hope this will get you thinking toward your entry for the 2015 Hackaday Prize.

There are big science breakthroughs that have taken us this far. For instance, The Green Revolution developed wheat with stronger stalks to support the weight of higher kernel yields. If you’re equipped to undertake that kind of bio-hacking we’d love to see it. But the majority of us can still work on ideas to make a difference and (heartwarming moment approaching…) feed the world.

As with the shower feedback loop and electricity monitoring installments of We Have a Problem, I’ll start you off with an uber-simple idea. It’s up to you to think further and wider to get at solutions that are worth more exploration.

Can Technology Give Me a Green Thumb?

warm-dirt-greenhouse-controller-e1332183513993We see it all the time around here, people are building projects to monitor and control their own gardening projects. The one shown here couldn’t be simpler, it’s a hot-box which lets your gardening continue through the winter. It uses heat tape to keep the soil warm, and features a motorized lid which actuates to regulate humidity and temperature.

This concept is a good one. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and it tackles the easy part of automation (how hot is it? how wet is it?). But does it have the potential to make an impact on the source of your household’s food? Maybe the concept needs to be applied to community garden areas so that you can achieve a larger yield.


robot-weed-pickerPerhaps robots are an answer to a different problem. This little bot, already entered in the 2015 Hackaday Prize, is an experiment with automatic weed elimination versus the use of herbicides.

But it does get us thinking. One of the problems you need to overcome when trying to achieve wide adoption of local food supply is that not everyone enjoys the work that goes into it. Do you have an idea of how your mad robot skills can do the work for us?

buckybotStepping back onto the side-track of changes to industrial farming, let’s take a look at one of the way-out-there-ideas from last year. A huge amount of water usage is in food production. What if we turned entire farms into greenhouses in order to capture and reuse water that is normally lost into an all-to-dry atmosphere? Domes my friends, domes. A swarm of 3D printing robots given locomotion and unleashed to print out translucent covers over the fields on the kilometer-scale. Hey, doesn’t hurt to dream (and do some back of the envelope calculations to gauge how wild that idea actually is).

Your Turn

That should be enough to get the conversation started. Toss around some ideas here in the comments, but don’t let the brainstorm stop there. All it takes to enter the Hackaday Prize is an idea. Write it down as a project on Hackaday.io and tag it “2015HackadayPrize” to get your entry started.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Robotic Farms Invade Urban Landscapes

Now there is no excuse to not have a garden, even if you are located in an urban area. The Robotic Urban Farm System (RUFS for short) solves the problems of growing many plants in a small area. The system’s high plant density is attributed to its vertical orientation. The entire system is even made from easy to find parts from your local hardware store. The water usage is kept to a minimum thanks to the closed loop watering system. Instead of flowing down into the ground, any excess water is collected and saved for use later.

Plants are placed in holes made in the side of a standard plastic downspout that hangs from a PVC frame, each hole several inches apart from its neighbor. A standard plastic plant pot is place inside each hole and is filled with hydroponic media. That’s right, there is no dirt in this system. Plants will grow happily in the hydroponic media providing they get all the nutrients and water they need.

Robotic Urban Farm SystemThe potential urban farmer may not be super excited about tending to his crops. This is where the robot portion of the RUFS system comes into play. There are two control systems that work independently of each other. The first is for indoor applications and controls light cycles and circulation fans. The second is a little more complex and controls the watering portion of the system. Not only does it water the plants at pre-determined intervals but it also monitors the pH, nutrient and water levels inside the reservoir. Both these systems are Arduino-based. For extreme control freaks, there is one more add-on available. It’s Raspberry Pi based and has an accompanying mobile app. The Pi records and logs sensor data from the Arduinos and also allows remote updating of the watering and light schedules. The mobile app lets you not only look at current conditions of the system but also displays the historical data in a nice visual graph.

THP Semifinalist: Farmbot

The FarmBot team has been pretty busy with their CNC Farming and Gathering machine. The idea is to automate the farming process with precise deployment of tools: plows, seed injection, watering, sensors, etc. An Arduino with an added RAMPS handles the movement, and a Raspi provides internet connectivity. Their prototype has already experienced four major iterations: the first revision addressed bigger issues such as frame/track stability and simplification of parts. Now they’re locking down the specifics on internet-of-things integration and coding for advanced movement functions.

The most recent upgrade provides a significant improvement by overhauling the implementation of the tools. Originally, the team envisioned a single, multi-function tool head design that carried everything around all the time. Problem is, the tool that’s in-use probably works best if it’s lower than the others, and piling them all onto one piece spells trouble. The solution? a universal tool mounting system, of course. You can see them testing their design in a video after the break.

If the FarmBot progress isn’t impressive enough—and admittedly we’d have called project lead [Rory Aronson] crazy for attempting to pull this off…but he did it—the FarmBot crew started and successfully funded an entire sub-project through Kickstarter. OpenFarm is an open-source database set to become the go-to wiki for all things farming and gardening. It’s the result of [Rory] encountering an overwhelming amount of generic, poorly written advice on plant growing, so he just crowdsourced a solution. You know, no sweat.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a semifinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

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Aquaponic System Uses Arduino For Consistent Performance

Smart Aquaponics

Food is just one of those things that we need to survive. Plants can grow on their own without human intervention but the quantity and quality of the crop will vary from year to year. Even elaborate farms can have good and bad years due to variables such as weather, disease, bugs, pollution and soil condition.

There is a system called Aquaponics that attempts to control those variables. Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising aquatic animals) with hydroponics (growing plants in water). The Aquaponic system tries to emulate what happens in nature without the variation; water-based animals eat plants and excrete waste and that waste is used as food for plants.

[Kijani Grows] has built an Aquaponic setup and added a smart controller that is made out a bunch of stuff you would not normally associate with a garden. Their are several sensors in the system that measure water flow, tank level, water quality and dissolved oxygen. An Arduino monitors these sensors and reports the information back to a $20 router running OpenWRT. All of the recorded data is also stored for review later. Software on the router determines what needs to be adjusted in the enclosed ecosystem. The router communicates this information back to the Arduino which in turn controls the water pumps, heaters, fish feeder and lighting. And as if that wasn’t enough, the control system can be set up to send out messages via email, SMS or social media.

Red Bull Creation: i3 Detroit

If there’s one thing I learned about Detroit last weekend, it’s that it is freaking huge. It’s an unbelievably large city, and looking at the population numbers, you can really start to see the problem of providing city services to such a large area. With such a sparse population, it’s the ideal environment for experimentations in urban farming, after a few seasons of planting crops that will leech everything out of the soil of course.

If you have a farm, you’re going to need some means of irrigation, and you might as well throw a scarecrow in there as well, giving i3 Detroit the idea for RoboCrop, the perfect project for an urban farm or anyone who is putting on a production of The Wizard Of Oz but is a little shorthanded for a full cast.

RoboCrop is an all-in-one irrigation and bird and small mammal scaring device, controllable with webcam video streamed right to the remote. It’s a fun project, and fits right into the apparent unofficial “urban gardening” theme of this year’s Red Bull Creation.

i3 is also the largest and arguably the best equipped hackerspace in the Detroit region. They were kind enough to let us throw a little get together there last weekend where we gave away a 3D printer for The Hackaday Prize. Good times all around. We’ll have a video tour of i3 up a little bit later.