Hacklab’s Logo Changes with the Habitat of a Beet Plant

Zaragoza, Spain hacklab La Remolacha (“The Beet”) sports a logo which responds to human interaction with a beet plant growing in the space. Sensors keep track of temperature as well as humidity for both air and ground, while buttons add more water, plant food, light, and music.

The shape and activity of the visualization responds to the sensors. The higher the temperature, the more folds in the shape. More distortions appear when there’s more humidity in the soil, while rotation speed increases with air humidity. Adding food increases the size of the visualization, and music triggers more vibrations.

An Arduino keeps track of the buttons and humidity sensors, while a nearby computer, connected via USB, sends the data to a node.js server. The data are displayed on the website through the torus visualization, which is done in WebGL.

The beet’s environment also signals the health of the space, because if no one is visiting, no one can feed the plant. On the other hand, could too many visitors actually kill the thing?

The project was created by [Innovart],  [Miguel Frago], and [Santi Grau] with help from other folks.

Thanks [Esther Borao Moros] for the tip!

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Growing Plants on Mars… on Earth

One of the biggest challenges of traveling to Mars is that it’s far away. That might seem obvious, but that comes with its own set of problems when compared to traveling to something relatively close like the Moon. The core issue is weight, and this becomes a big deal when you have to feed several astronauts for months or years. If food could be grown on Mars, however, this would make the trip easier to make. This is exactly the problem that [Clinton] is working on with his Martian terrarium, or “marsarium”.

The first task was to obtain some soil that would be a good analog of Martian soil. Obtaining the real thing was out of the question, as was getting similar dirt from Hawaii. [Clinton] decided to make his own by mixing various compounds from the hardware store in the appropriate amounts. From there he turned to creating the enclosure and filling it with the appropriate atmosphere. Various gas canisters controlled by gas solenoid valves mixed up the analog to Martian atmosphere: 96% dioxide, 2% argon, and 2% nitrogen. The entire experiment was controlled by an Intel Edison with custom circuits for all of the sensors and regulating equipment. Check out the appropriately dramatic video of the process after the break.

While the fern that [Clinton] planted did survive the 30-day experiment in the marsarium, it wasn’t doing too well. There’s an apparent lack of nitrogen in Martian soil which is crucial for plants to survive. Normally this is accomplished when another life form “fixes” nitrogen to the soil, but Mars probably doesn’t have any of that. Future experiments would need something that could do this for the other plants, but [Clinton] notes that he’ll need a larger marsarium for that. And, if you’re not interested in plants or Mars, there are some other interesting ramifications of nitrogen-fixing as well.

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The Internet Of Dirt, A Texting Plant

We will all at some point have forgotten to water a plant. If we’re lucky then the limp vegetation we return to will magically revive when we rush to water it, if not then we have the shame of an empty plant pot to remind us of our folly.

No matter, you might be thinking, we can bring technology to bear on the problem, and automate it with a microcontroller! [Bonnie] has done just that, with a capacitive soil sensor feeding an ESP8266-based Adafruit Feather HUZZAH, which in turn logs soil humidity data with the Adafruit IO online service. An IFTTT applet monitors the data, and triggers a notification when moisture falls to the point at which watering is required.

The Instructables write-up gives a comprehensive step-by-step guide to the whole process, including the code, so it’s a project that almost anyone could try as well as a basic introduction to using an online service with a piece of hardware. We can’t help asking, though, whether it might have been better to have had the system do the watering rather than merely administer a prod to its fleshy horticulturist creator. Perhaps that’s left to anyone else building one to add as an enhancement.

Quite a few plant watering automation projects have found their way onto these pages over the years, from this one using car parts to a system with an impressively simple valve made by compressing a flexible pipe. The ultimate watering device though has to be this fully autonomous greenhouse robot.

Guerrilla Grafters Grow Great Gifts for Greater Good

If you’ve been to downtown San Francisco lately, you might have noticed something odd about the decorative trees in the city: they’re now growing fruit. This is thanks to a group of people called the Guerrilla Grafters who are covertly grafting fruit-bearing twigs to city tress which would otherwise be fruitless. Their goal is to create a delicious, free source of food for those living in urban environments.

Biology-related hacks aren’t something we see every day, but they’re out there. For those unfamiliar with grafting, it’s a process that involves taking the flowering, fruiting, or otherwise leafy section of one plant (a “scion”) and attaching them to the vascular structure of another plant that has an already-established root system (the “stock”). The Guerrilla Grafters are performing this process semi-covertly and haven’t had any run-ins with city officials yet, largely due to lack of funding on the city’s part to maintain the trees in the first place.

This hack doesn’t stop at the biological level, though. The Grafters have to keep detailed records of which trees the scions came from, when the grafts were done, and what characteristics the stock trees have. To keep track of everything they’ve started using RFID tags. This is an elegant solution that can be small and inconspicuous, and is a reliable way to keep track of all of one’s “inventory” of trees and grafts.

It’s great to see a grassroots movement like this take off, especially when it seems like city resources are stretched so thin that the trees may have been neglected anyway. Be sure to check out their site if you’re interested in trying a graft yourself. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can take this process to the extreme.

Thanks to [gotno] for the tip!

Play Robotic Bongos using your Household Plants

[Kirk Kaiser] isn’t afraid to admit his latest project a bit strange, being a plant-controlled set of robotic bongos. We don’t find it odd at all.  This is the kind of thing we love to see. His project’s origins began a month ago after taking a class at NYC Resistor about creating music from robotic instruments. Inspired to make his own, [Kirk] repurposed a neighbor’s old wooden dish rack to serve as a mount for solenoids that, when triggered, strike a couple of plastic cowbells or bongo drums.

A Raspberry Pi was originally used to interface the solenoids with a computer or MIDI keyboard, but after frying it, he went with a Teensy LC instead and never looked back. Taking advantage of the Teensy’s MIDI features, [Kirk] programmed a specific note to trigger each solenoid. When he realized that the Teensy also had capacitive touch sensors, he decided to get his plants in on the fun in a MaKey MaKey kind of way. Each plant is connected to the Teensy’s touchRead pins by stranded wire; the other end is stripped, covered with copper tape, and placed into the soil. When a plant’s capacitance surpasses a threshold, the respective MIDI note – and solenoid – is triggered. [Kirk] quickly discovered that hard-coding threshold values was not the best idea. Looking for large changes was a better method, as the capacitance was dramatically affected when the plant’s soil dried up. As [Kirk] stood back and admired his work, he realized there was one thing missing – lights! He hooked up an Arduino with a DMX shield and some LEDs that light up whenever a plant is touched.

We do feel a disclaimer is at hand for anyone interested in using this botanical technique: thorny varieties are ill-advised, unless you want to play a prank and make a cactus the only way to turn the bongos off!

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Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants


If you want your plants to stay healthy, you need to make sure they stay watered. [Dimbit] decided to build his own solar powered circuit to help automatically keep his plants healthy. Like many things, there is more than one way to skin this cat. [Dimbit] had seen other similar projects before, but he wanted to make his smarter than the average watering project. He also wanted it to use very little energy.

[Dimbit] first tackled the power supply. He suspected he wouldn’t need much more than 5V for his project. He was able to build his own solar power supply by using four off-the-shelf solar garden lamps. These lamps each have their own low quality solar panel and AAA NiMH cell. [Dimbit] designed and 3D printed his own plastic stand to hold all of the solar cells in place. All of the cells and batteries are connected in series to increase the voltage.

Next [Dimbit] needed an electronically controllable water valve. He looked around but was unable to find anything readily available that would work with very little energy. He tried all different combinations of custom parts and off-the-shelf parts but just couldn’t make something with a perfect seal. The solution came from an unlikely source.

One day, when [Dimbit] ran out of laundry detergent, he noticed that the detergent bottle cap had a perfect hole that should be sealable with a steel ball bearing. He then designed his own electromagnet using a bolt, some magnet wire, and a custom 3D printed housing. This all fit together with the detergent cap to make a functional low power water valve.

The actual circuit runs on a Microchip PIC microcontroller. The system is designed to sleep for approximately nine minutes at a time. After the sleep cycle, it wakes up and tests a probe that sits in the soil. If the resistance is low enough, the PIC knows that the plants need water. It then opens the custom valve to release about two teaspoons of water from a gravity-fed system. After a few cycles, even very dry soil can reach the correct moisture level. Be sure to watch the video of the functioning system below. Continue reading “Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants”

The plant whisperer

[Jeff], fully acknowledging his inability to keep plants alive, has designed a system to help him out a little bit. The “Plant Whisperer” monitors water levels and notifies him if the plant needs attention. Actually, it notifies him either way. The plant whisperer uses real time text to speech to say one of several pre-programmed things, either proclaiming its happiness or requesting more water. He’s using a parallax propeller for the job as he says it is capable of handling the real time text to speech. We realize this is overkill, but we absolutely love it. The only improvement we would want would be to possibly use a pre-recorded voice for more clarity.  You can see a video of it in action after the break.

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