A Farmer’s Guide to Technology

One of the hardest aspects of choosing a career isn’t getting started, it’s keeping up. Whether you’re an engineer, doctor, or even landscaper, there are always new developments to keep up with if you want to stay competitive. This is especially true of farming, where farmers have to keep up with an incredible amount of “best practices” in order to continue being profitable. Keeping up with soil nutrient requirements, changing weather and climate patterns, pests and other diseases, and even equipment maintenance can be a huge hassle.

A new project at Hackerfarm led by [Akiba] is hoping to take at least one of those items off of farmers’ busy schedules, though. Their goal is to help farmers better understand the changing technological landscape and make use of technology without having to wade through all the details of every single microcontroller option that’s available, for example. Hackerfarm is actually a small farm themselves, so they have first-hand knowledge when it comes to tending a plot of land, and [Bunnie Huang] recently did a residency at the farm as well.

The project strives to be a community for helping farmers make the most out of their land, so if you run a small farm or even have a passing interest in gardening, there may be some useful tools available for you. If you have a big enough farm, you might even want to try out an advanced project like an autonomous tractor.

Gardening as Nature Intended, with an Arduino

We’re not exactly what you’d call naturalists here at Hackaday, so to us, the idea that hot pepper seeds need to germinate in hot conditions sounds suspiciously like a joke. The sort of thing somebody might tell you right before they try to sell you an elevator pass, or cram you into a locker. But we don’t think [Dean] would have gone through so much trouble if it wasn’t true. You’re still not going to sell us an elevator pass, though. Not again.

According to [Dean], the Carolina Reaper pepper seeds he bought from Puckerbutt Pepper Company (truly a name you can trust) recommend that they be germinated at a temperature between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit for up to eight weeks. To make sure they were maintained at the optimal temperature for as long as possible, he decided to get a heating pad he could place under the seeds to keep them warm. He just needed some way to make sure the heat only kicked on once the soil temperature fell out of the sweet spot.

To get an accurate reading, [Dean] ended up going with a waterproof K-type thermocouple connected to a SainSmart MAX6675 module that could be buried amongst the seeds. When the soil temperature drops below 82.5 F, it kicks on the heating mat through an IoT Relay by Digital Loggers. He even added in a capacitive soil moisture sensor and a couple of LEDs so he could tell from across the room if he needed to water what he loving refers to as his “Hell Berries”

Looking back through the archives, we see a considerable overlap between hacking and gardening. Since success demands the careful control and monitoring of a myriad of variables, it seems the sort of thing that’s ripe for gloriously over-engineered automation. Especially if you’re trying to get the things to sprout off-world.

Make Your Cactus Bionic With Bionic Cactus

The closest some of us at Hackaday get to a green thumb comes when we are painting, so for us and other folks not gifted in the gardening department Bionic Cactus might help. It’s a neatly designed water and light control system, built around an ESP8266. You can control the system through a web interface, setting a schedule for water and light and seeing how much water is left in the reservoir. There is also a soil moisture sensor and it will even email you when it is running low on water. As creator [SamsonKing] notes, if you combine this with a 3D-printed plant pot and light holder, and you’ve got a complete system from growing herbs and spices in the middle of winter.

[SamsonKing] created the system using PlatformIO, a neat open source Internet of Things development platform that means you could probably switch the system over to run on other low-power platforms if you had them lying around. But with an ESP8266 typically costing no more than a few bucks, it’s a neat and low-cost way to keep your plants fed and watered.

Automated gardening has featured many times here at Hackaday, just one of many is this indoor hydroponic lettuce factory.

Cyborg, Or Leafy Sensor Array?

Some plants react quickly enough for our senses to notice, such as a Venus flytrap or mimosa pudica. Most of the time, we need time-lapse photography at a minimum to notice while more exotic sensors can measure things like microscopic pores opening and closing. As with any sensor reading, those measurements can be turned into action through a little trick we call automation. [Harpreet Sareen] and [Pattie Maes] at MIT brought these two ideas together in a way which we haven’t seen before where a plant has taken the driver’s seat in a project called Elowan. Details are sparse but the concept is easy enough to grasp.

We are not sure if this qualifies as a full-fledged cyborg or if this is a case of a robot using biological sensors. Maybe it all depends on which angle you present this mixture of plant and machine. Perhaps it is truly is the symbiotic relationship that the project claims it to be. The robot would not receive any instructions without the plant and the plant would receive sub-optimal light without the robot. What other ways could plants be integrated into robotics to make it a bona fide cyborg?

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TerraDome Gives Plants And Dinosaurs A New Home

Housing exotic plants or animals offer a great opportunity to get into the world of electronic automation. When temperature, light, and humidity ranges are crucial, sensors are your best friend. And if woodworking and other types of crafts are your thing on top, why not build it all from scratch. [MagicManu] did so with his Jurassic Park themed octagonal dome built from MDF and transparent polystyrene.

With the intention to house some exotic plants of his own, [MagicManu] equipped the dome with an Arduino powered control system that regulates the temperature and light, and displays the current sensor states on a LCD, including the humidity. For reasons of simplicity regarding wiring and isolation, the humidity itself is not automated for the time being. A fan salvaged from an old PC power supply provides proper ventilation, and in case the temperature inside the dome ever gets too high, a servo controlled set of doors that match the Jurassic Park theme, will automatically open up.

[MagicManu] documented the whole build process in a video, which you can watch after the break — in French only though. We’ve seen a similar DIY indoor gardening project earlier this year, and considering its simple yet practical application to learn about sensors, plus a growing interest in indoor gardening itself (pun fully intended), this certainly won’t be the last one.
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Autonomous Agribots For Agriculture

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [TegwynTwmffat] is going all-in on autonomous robotics. No, it’s not a self-driving car with highly advanced features such as cruise control with lane-keeping. This is an autonomous robot that’s capable of driving itself. It’s a robot built for agriculture, and relative to other autonomous robotics projects, this one is huge. It’s the size of a small tractor.

The goal [Tegwyn]’s project is to build a robot capable of roving fields of crops to weed, harvest, and possibly fertilize the land. This is a superset of the autonomous car problem: not only does [Tegwyn] need to build a chassis to roll around a field, he needs accurate sensors, some sort of connection to the Internet, and a fast processor on board. The mechanical part of this build comes in the form of a rolling chassis that’s a bit bigger than a golf cart, and electrically powered (although there is a small Honda generator strapped to the back). The electronics is where this gets really interesting, with a rather large board built to house all the sensor and wireless modules, with everything controlled by a TC275, a multicore, 32-bit microcontroller that also has the world record for solving a Rubik’s cube.

Already, [Tegwyn] has a chassis and motor set up, and is already running some code to allow for autonomous navigation. It’s not much now — just rolling down a garden path — but then again, if you’re building a robot for agriculture, it’s not that hard to roll around an open field. You can check out a video of the bot in action below.

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Carrots In Space

For this year’s Hackaday Prize, [will.stevens] is growing his own produce and now looks for a way to shield his endeavors from the perils of the British winter. To achieve this, he decided to grow vegetables in sealed containers. Inspired by prior art and backed up by research, his approach is a wild mix of applied laziness on one hand and reckless over-engineering on the other. The sealed containers in this project are PET bottles, chosen for their availability and the produce are carrots, mainly because they can be harvested through the bottle’s mouth. Carrots also feature a high energy density and can provide fibers for plant-based construction materials so [will] deems them ideal space colonist food.

The project is currently in its fourth attempt and somewhere along the road from carrot seeds, dirt and some water in a soda bottle to the current state, the setup sprouted artificial lighting and a CO2 sensor. Fully aware that sealed greenhouses are a proven concept, [will.stevens] provides links to literature one should read before attempting something like this, alongside regular updates on his progress.

With a sensor and LEDs already in place, it is just a matter of time until a raspi will be added. Or we might see the demise of the soil in favor of a hydroponic setup.