Chili-Gation With The MSP430

[Dave] used to grow chili peppers, but after moving to Texas he noticed his plants were drying up and dying off. This is understandable; Texas is freaking hot compared to his old home in the UK. These chilis needed a watering system, and with a pump, relay module, and an MSP430 launchpad, it was pretty easy to put together.

The core of the build is an MSP430 launchpad, a Sharp Memory LCD BoosterPack for the user interface, and a few bits and bobs for pumping water from a large soda bottle to the plant.

Before beginning his build, [Dave] took a look at commercial watering systems, but could only find huge irrigation systems for greenhouses or gardens. This was obviously overkill, but with a few parts – a six volt pump and a relay control board – [Dave] was able to make a simple system that keeps chilis watered for seven days between refilling the reservoir.

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 and tag it “2015HackadayPrize” to get your entry started.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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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Remote Controlled Lawn Mower Lets you Sit Back and Enjoy The Show

“Its hard to find people that actually WANT to mow their lawn.” A more true statement has never been made. [Kurt’s] project turns an old lawn mower into a remote control lawn mower.

The first step of this build is to replace the front drive wheels with mini-bike tires which have built-in gear tooth sprockets. The rear wheels were then replaced with large caster wheels. The 12-24V DC motors and gear boxes used come from National Power Chair. While we have seen more complicated RC lawn mowers before, this project is a great way to get started. All that [Kurt] wanted was to make lawn mowing more fun, we believe that he has succeeded. This thing is very mobile and can turn on a dime. Check out the demo video after the break.

What’s next? Add a GPS, a Raspberry Pi, and a few other odds and ends. Tie it together with some clever programming and you will have your own autonomous lawn mower. Have you already created a completely autonomous lawn mower? Let us know!
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Fully automated watering robot takes a big leap forward toward greenhouse automation


Greenhouse owners might find [David Dorhout]’s latest invention a groundbreaking green revolution! [David]’s Aquarius robot automates the laborious process of precision watering 90,000 square feet of potted plants. Imagine a recliner sized Roomba with a 30 gallon water tank autonomously roaming around your greenhouse performing 24×7 watering chores with absolute perfection. The Aquarius robot can do it all with three easy setups; add lines up and down the aisles on the floor for the robot to follow, set its dial to the size of your pots and maybe add a few soil moisture sensors if you want the perfect amount of water dispensed in each pot. The options include adding soil moisture sensors only between different sized plants letting Aquarius repeat the dispensing level required by the first plant’s moisture sensor for a given series.

After also digging through a pair of forum posts we learned that the bot is controlled by two Parallax propeller chips and has enough autonomous coding to open and close doors, find charging stations, fill its 30 gal water tank when low, and remember exactly where it left off between pit stops. We think dialing in the pot size could easily be eliminated using RFID pot identification tags similar in fashion to the Science Fair Sorting Project. Adjusting for plant and pot size as well as location might easily be automated using a vision system such as the featured Pixy a few weeks back. Finally, here are some featured hardware hacks for soil moisture sensing that could be incorporated into Aquarius to help remotely monitor and attend to just the plants that need attention: [Andy’s] Garden sensors, [Clover’s] Moisture control for a DIY greenhouse, [Ken_S’s] GardenMon(itoring project)

[David Dorhout] has 14 years experience in the agriculture and biotech industry. He has a unique talent applying his mad scientist technology to save the future of mankind as seen with his earlier Prospero robot farmer. You can learn more about Aquarius’s features on Dorhout R&D website or watch the video embedded below.

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Update: Grow controller rebuilt to last


[The Cheap Vegetable Gardener] assembled his first grow controller about three and a half years ago. He’s been very happy with it and knows that he’ll be using it for years, maybe even decades to come. He just finished overhauling the grow controller design to help make sure he doesn’t burn down his garage one day. You have to admit, without knowing anything about the project this rendition does look safer than his original offering.

Pictured above is the weather-proof enclosure he used to house four mains-rated solid state relays. This box is isolated from the control hardware, providing heavy-duty utility plugs to interface with the heater, lights, fan, and water pump.  He mounted the Arduino board which controls the relays to the outside of the box, using the Ethernet wire to switch the SSRs. It uses a manufactured shield he designed which will help ease the pain of fixing the system if parts ever go bad.

Later on in the build he shows the grow light and heaters used in his operation. The heaters simply screw into light sockets; something we’ve never come across before.

Growerbot turns gardening into a science

A backyard vegetable garden can be a hit-or-miss game. You’re really not sure if your crops are getting enough sun, shade, or water until it’s time for harvest and you see the results of a season of hard work. Growerbot, a hardware project by [Luke] that’s up on Kickstarter now, hopes to change that. This box will pull down how much sun and water your crops should get, and is smart enough to correct any deficiencies.

On board the Growerbot is a soil moisture sensor, light, temperature, and humidity sensors, as well as WiFi connectivity and a few relays to run pumps and turn on grow lights. The idea is to learn from mistakes and achieve optimal growth for everything connected to the Growerbot. If you’re trying to grow some heirloom tomatoes in the midwest, you can go online and get the growth profile for your area and precisely control environmental variables for the perfect crop.

As of now, there are settings for in-ground gardens, raised beds, and hydroponic setups. There’s not much in the way of ideal growing conditions aside from what is available from the USDA, but once Growerbot is released we expect the data to start flowing in.