The Short And Tragic Story Of Life On The Moon

The Moon is a desolate rock, completely incapable of harboring life as we know it. Despite being our closest celestial neighbor, conditions on the surface couldn’t be more different from the warm and wet world we call home. Variations in surface temperature are so extreme, from a blistering 106 C (223 F) during the lunar day to a frigid -183 C (-297 F) at night, that even robotic probes struggle to survive. The Moon’s atmosphere, if one is willing to call the wispy collection of oddball gasses including argon, helium, and neon at nearly negligible concentrations an atmosphere, does nothing to protect the lunar surface from being bombarded with cosmic radiation.

Von Kármán Crater

Yet for a brief time, very recently, life flourished on the Moon. Of course, it did have a little help. China’s Chang’e 4 lander, which made a historic touchdown in the Von Kármán crater on January 3rd, brought with it an experiment designed to test if plants could actually grow on the lunar surface. The device, known as the Lunar Micro Ecosystem (LME), contained air, soil, water, and a collection of seeds. When it received the appropriate signal, LME watered the seeds and carefully monitored their response. Not long after, Chinese media proudly announced that the cotton seeds within the LME had sprouted and were doing well.

Unfortunately, the success was exceptionally short-lived. Just a few days after announcing the success of the LME experiment, it was revealed that all the plants which sprouted had died. The timeline here is a bit hazy. It was not even immediately clear if the abrupt end of the LME experiment was intentional, or due to some hardware failure.

So what exactly do we know about Chang’e 4’s Lunar Micro Ecosystem, and the lifeforms it held? Why did the plants die? But perhaps most importantly, what does all this have to do with potential future human missions to that inhospitable rock floating just a few hundred thousand kilometers away from us?

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Hexagrow Robot Packs A Serious Sensor Package

Automation is a lofty goal in many industries, but not always straightforward to execute. Welding car bodies in the controlled environment of a production line is relatively straightforward. Maintaining plants in a greenhouse, however, brings certain complexities due to the unpredictable organic processes at play. Hexagrow is a robot that aims to study automation in this area, developed as the final year project of [Mithira Udugama] and team.

The robot’s chassis is a very modern build, consisting of carbon fiber panels and 3D printed components. This kind of strength is perhaps overkill for the application, but it makes for a very light and rigid robot when the materials are used correctly.

Testing soil pH isn’t easy, but Hexagrow is up to the challenge.

It’s the sensor package where this build really shines, however. There’s the usual accoutrement of temperature and humidity sensors, and a soil moisture probe, as we’d expect. But there’s more, including an impressive soil pH tester. This involves a robotic arm with a scoop to collect soil samples, which are then weighed by a load cell. This is then used to determine the correct amount of water to add to the sample. The mixture is then agitated, before being tested by the probe to determine the pH level. It recalls memories of the science packages on Mars rovers, and it’s great to see this level of sophistication in a university project build. There’s even a LIDAR mounted on top for navigation purposes, though it’s not clear as to whether this sensor is actually functionally used at this point in development.

Plants can be demanding of their caretakers, so perhaps you’d best check you’re measuring your soil moisture correctly? Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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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.

Python Keeps A Gecko Happy: Terrarium Automation With Raspberry Pi

For better or worse, pets often serve as inspiration and test subjects for hardware hacks: smarten up that hamster wheel, tweet the squirrel hunting adventures from a dog’s point of view, or automate and remote control a reptile enclosure. [TheYOSH], a gecko breeder from the Netherlands, chose the latter and wrote TerrariumPi for the Raspberry Pi to control and monitor his exotic companion’s home through a convenient web interface.

The right ecosystem is crucial to the health and happiness of any animal that isn’t native to its involuntarily chosen surroundings. Simulating temperature, humidity and lighting of its natural habitat should therefore be the number one priority for any pet owner. The more that simulation process is reliably automated, the less anyone needs to worry.

TerrariumPi supports all the common temperature/humidity sensors and relay boards you will find for the Raspberry Pi out of the box, and can utilize heating and cooling, watering and spraying, as well as lighting based on fixed time intervals or sensor feedback. It even supports location based sunrise and sunset simulation — your critter might just think it never left Madagascar, New Caledonia or Brazil. All the configuration and monitoring happens in the browser, as demonstrated in [TheYOSH]’s live system with public read access (in Dutch).

It only seems natural that Python was the language of choice for a reptile-related system. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be strictly used for reptiles or even terrariums; TerrariumPi will take care of aquariums and any other type of vivarium equally well. After all, we have seen the Raspberry Pi handling greenhouses and automating mushroom cultivation before.

Raspberry Pi Is The Brains Behind Automated Greenhouse

[Asa Wilson] and his wife picked up a 10’x12′ greenhouse from Harbor Freight that for their location required some serious changes, understandable since they’re in Colorado on the western slope of Pike’s Peak where the winds are strong and the normal growing season is short. After assembling it on a concrete footing and adding some steel bracing, they got to work on adding an environment management system based around a Raspberry Pi. Read on for a look at the modifications they made.

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DIY Rocket Mass Heater Build Log For Commercial Greenhouse

[Bigelow Brook Farm] has a cool geodesic dome greenhouse that needs to stay warm in the winter. There are a lot of commercial solutions for greenhouse heating, but if you’re the kind of person who research and develops solutions for aquaponics, a greener solution may have more appeal.

A rocket mass heater is a combination of a rocket stove and underfloor heating. A rocket stove works by having such a strong draft created by the heat rising up the chimney that the flames can’t crawl up the fuel and burn in the open air, creating a controlled burn zone. Unfortunately, with just a plain rocket stove a lot of heat is lost to the atmosphere needlessly. You only need enough to create the draft.

The mass part solves this. It runs the exhaust under the floor and through radiators. This passively retains a lot of heat inside the space to be heated. It’s a bit of a trick to balance the system so it puts as much heat into the space as possible without stalling, which can be dangerous due to carbon monoxide, among other things. Once the balance is achieved the user gets a stove that can burn fuel very effectively and best of all passively.

[Bigelow Brook Farms] have been working on their heater for quite some time. We really enjoy their test driven development and iteration. They have really interesting autopsies when a component of the heater fails and needs replacing. Right now they have a commercial sized operation heated by their latest iteration and it’s completely passive, being gravity fed. Video after the break.

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Hacklet 14 – Hacks Around The House

In this weeks Hacklet we’re looking at household hacks. Not necessarily globally connected home automation hacks, but task specific hacks that we want in our lives yesterday!

We’ve all had it happen, you’re burning the midnight oil on a project when you realize it’s garbage night. The mad dash to collect empty anti-static bags, last night’s Chinese food, and the rest of the trash before actually venturing outside in the dark.

bins2[Mehmet-cileli] doesn’t have to deal with any of that, thanks to My Bins, his automated trash and recycling can moving system. Normally the bins are stationed near the house. Each garbage night, the system springs into action. The cans and their platform pivots 90 degrees. The entire system then rolls along a track to the curb. Once the cans have been collected, everything rolls back ready for more trash. We just hope [Mehmet’s] garbage men are nice enough to put the bins back on their platform!

teatimeNext we have the perfect cup of tea. [Marcel] kept forgetting his tea while it was steeping. After ending up with ink a few times, he built this Automatic Tea Timer. A button starts the timer, and after a few minutes, the tea bag is automatically lifted and a light illuminates to let you know your tea is ready. [Marcel] used a Raspberry Pi Arduino 555 simple R-C timer circuit to create his delay. The lift arm is a discarded hard drive read arm. The light bulb limits current through the voice coils.

greenhouse1[Juan Sandu] always has veggies with his Smart Small Greenhouse. [Juan] has created a desktop sized greenhouse that gives plants what they crave. No, not Brawndo, we’re talking water, warmth, and light. An Arduino Uno uses sensors to monitor humidity, temperature, light, and moisture. Based upon one of two pre-set plant types, the system determines when to water, turn on lights, or even power up a fan to keep temperatures plant friendly.  [Juan] is still working on his greenhouse, but his code is already up on Github.

 

grillupNext up is [nerwal] with his entry in The Hackaday Prize, GrillUp. GrillUp is a remote grill temperature monitoring system with a cooling spray. Up to 6 food grade thermometers provide GrillUp with its temperature data. If things are getting a bit too hot, Grillup cools the situation down by spraying water, beer, or your favorite marinade. The system is controlled over Bluetooth Low Energy from an android smart phone. A laser pointer helps to aim the water spray. Once the cooling zones are set up, the system runs automatically. It even has a sprinkler mode, where it sprays everything down.

led-lightsEvery hacker’s house needs some Sci-fi mood lights, right? [spetku and maehem] round out this weeks Hacklet with their Fifth Element Stone Mood Lighting. Originally an entry in the Hackaday Sci-fi contest, these mood lights are based on the elemental stones in everyone’s favorite Bruce Willis movie. The lights are 3D printed in sections which stack over foamboard cores. The actual light comes from a trio of RGB LEDs. LED control is from the same brain board which controls the team’s Robot Army. The lights are designed to open up just like the ones in the movie, though fire, earth, wind, and water are not required. The servos [spetku and maehem] selected weren’t quite up to the task, but they mention this will be remedied in a future revision.

That’s a wrap for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!