It is said that you’re not a sysadmin if you haven’t warmed up a sandwich on server. OK, it’s not widely said; we made it up, and only said it once, coincidentally enough after heating up a sandwich on a server. But we stand by the central thesis: never let a good source of excess thermal energy go to waste.
[Joseph Marlin] is in the same camp, but it’s not lunch that he’s warming up. Instead, he’s using the heat generated by his Folding@Home rig to sprout seeds for beautiful tropical flowers. A native of South Africa Strelitzia reginae, better known as the striking blue and orange Bird of Paradise flower, prefers a temperature of at least 80° F (27° C) for the two months its seeds take to sprout. With all the extra CPU cycles on a spare laptop churning out warm air, [Joseph] rigged an incubator of sorts from a cardboard box. A 3D-printed scoop snaps over the fan output on the laptop and funnels warm air into the grow chamber. This keeps the interior temperature about 15 degrees above ambient, which should be good enough for the seeds to sprout. He says that elaborations for future versions could include an Arduino and a servo-controlled shutter to regulate the temperature, which seems like a good idea.
The Bird of Paradise is a spectacular flower, but if growing beautiful things isn’t your style, such a rig could easily sprout tomatoes or peppers or get onions off to a good start. No matter what you grow, you’ll need to basics of spinning up a Folding@Home rig, which is something we can help with, of course.
Greenhouses create an artificial climate specifically suited to the plants you want to grow. It’s done by monitoring conditions like temperature and humidity, and making changes using things like vents, fans, irrigation, and lighting fixtures to boost temperature. But how do you know when it’s time to up the humidity, or vent some of the heat building up inside? The easy way is to use the Arduino-powered Norman climate simulator from [934Virginia] which leverages data from different locations or times of year based on NOAA weather data to mimic a particular growing environment.
Norman relies on a simple input of data about the target location, working from coordinates and specified date ranges to return minimum/maximum values for temperature and humidity weather conditions. It makes extensive use of the Dusk2Dawn library, and models other atmospheric conditions using mathematical modeling methods in order to make relatively accurate estimates of the target climate. There are some simulations on the project’s Plotly page which show what this data looks like.
Editor’s Note: This article has been rewritten from the original to correct factual errors. The original article incorrectly focused on replicating a climate without the use of sensors. This project does require sensors to compare actual greenhouse conditions to historic climate conditions calculated by the library. We apologize to [934Virginia] for this and thank them for writing in to point out the errors.
Greenhouses are a great way to improve conditions for your plants, and are an absolute necessity for any serious gardening in colder climates. When the time came for [gentleworks] to build a new greenhouse, rather than going with a conventional design, they decided to go with a geodesic dome instead.
The greenhouse uses a few techniques that will be unfamiliar to those used to run-of-the-mill carpentry. The individual cedar struts meet at a series of hubs, constructed out of short lengths of Schedule 80 PVC pipe. The struts are attached to the pipe with steel straps, screwed into place. This doesn’t give the strongest of holds, but as most of the loads on the struts are compressive in nature, it works well in practice. Plastic sheeting is used as a covering to help let in plenty of light while keeping the cold out. The greenhouse is also heated, and can maintain a 40 deg F temperature differential with 14,000 BTUs.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.