Robotic Farms Invade Urban Landscapes

Robotic Urban Farm System

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 it’s vertical orientation. The entire system is even made from easy to find parts from your local hardware store. The water usage is keep 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 it’s 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 independantly 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.

Warming seeds in an outdoor garden

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Spring is almost here and with that the green thumbs out there are preparing for their summer gardens. It’s usually a good idea to get a jump on all your gardening activities by starting seeds indoors, but with this comes the problem of making sure juvenile plants get enough sunlight. Putting a few seeds on a window sill will keep seeds warm enough to start germinating, but that will drastically reduce the amount of sunlight available for any given day. The best solution is to make sure the seeds are kept warm outside, but for wont of a properly placed clothes dryer vent [Tim] decided to make a solar soil heater using junk he had lying around.

[Tim] constructed a simple heater cartridge using a few 5 and 10 Ω resistors. These were sealed inside a piece of copper pipe with heat shrink tubing and silicone. The solution to powering this heater cartridge, though, is an impressive display of thinking outside the box.

The cartridge is powered by a solar lantern – the same kind you’d find illuminating a garden path at night and recharging during the day. After inserting the cartridge in a hill of seeds, the heater provides a little bit of warmth to get the seeds through the night. During the day, the battery in the solar lantern recharges, providing just enough power to cycle through another night.

It works for [Tim] in his native New England, so we’re betting it’s good enough for just about any growing region.

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