Plant pod

Modular plant grow module

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One of the top environmental problems is food and water Insecurity. 

Rising temperatures and unsustainable farming practices has resulted in the increasing threat of water and food insecurity. 

Globally, more than 68 billion tons of top-soil is eroded every year at a rate 100 times faster than it can naturally be replenished. Laden with biocides and fertilizer, the soil ends up in waterways where it contaminates drinking water and protected areas downstream. 

Furthermore, exposed and lifeless soil is more vulnerable to wind and water erosion due to lack of root and mycelium systems that hold it together.

With the global population expected to reach 9 billion people by mid-century, the FAO projects that global food demand may increase by 70% by 2050.

If we also include industry needed to support current food production, including farming, packaging, transport, storage etc. all of these elements contribute to the list of the top environmental problems, including:

  • Food waste
  • Plastic pollution
  • Air pollution

Vertical farming

Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers. 

It often incorporates controlled-environment agriculture, which aims to optimize plant growth, and soilless farming techniques such as hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics. 

Current applications of vertical farming coupled with other technologies,  have resulted in over 10 times the crop yield than would receive through traditional farming methods. 

The main advantage of utilizing vertical farming technologies is the increased crop yield that comes with a smaller unit area of land requirement. The increased ability to cultivate a larger variety of plants at once because plants do not share the same soil. Additionally, plants are resistant to weather disruptions because of their indoor placement.

The main disadvantage is cost of setting up a vertical farm, application and space specific implementations, system rigidity, and no modularity. Vertical farms also face large energy demands due to the use of supplementary light like LEDs.

Plant pod

Main goal of the Plant pod is to provide low cost, scalable, modular and flexible solution for vertical farming. Plant pod device is designed to be plant per module system, capable of fast and flexible implementation, independent of chosen soilless farming techniques, and even allow mixing of these, depending on the specific plant, or rather group of plants.

This kind of solution can provide fast farming setups, that are flexible both in the sense of ability to physically move, and Indoor space positioning, like layers, plant orientation etc.

Each Plant pod device is modular and can be customized for specific type of plant, like height of the device, number of active liquid inlets/outlets, air flow, size, shape and type of the net cup.

System needs to scale well, depending on the food demand, it can be configured like a small to medium in store solution, or per building solution, micro hub etc. Or it can be a large scale operation, that might replace farmers market in the city center.

Plant pod is designed to be as simple a possible, and use as many of the shelf components, to maintain low production cost. Materials used for the main body are mostly plastic, so all other components are designed in such a way that it can be replaced, and by so, prolongate the devices life cycle. 3D printing main body is also an option.

Device has three main parts, lower body, upper body and middle section. 

Lower body houses main logic board, liquid and electrical connections. 

There are total of six liquid connections, to enable the supply of:

  • Water
  • Ph+
  • Ph-
  • Nutrient A
  • Nutrient B
  • Nutrient C

Depending on the chosen farming technique, device can be configured to use variable number of liquid connections. Flow of liquid  components is controlled by using integrated solenoid pumps, fixed amount of liquid is taken...

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  • Grow log - Day 1

    Nikola Secerovski09/02/2021 at 20:30 0 comments

  • Plant pod V3

    Nikola Secerovski08/31/2021 at 06:30 0 comments

  • Version 3 (Centralization)

    Nikola Secerovski08/30/2021 at 08:21 0 comments

    New design

    One of the primary goals of this project was simplicity and low manufacturing cost, with previous design that goal was hard to achieve, so we changed the design, or rather architecture of the system.  In the diagram bellow you can see new system design, the goal here is to reduce total parts count per plant and also reduce total price per plant, so the first thing to do is to dumb down individual Plant pod device. The plant pod device still has sensors for temperature, humidity and barometric pressure, light intensity and specter sensor, low liquid level sensor and piezo transducer. We removed LCD display per plant, moved it to the Plant pod hub and added simple single addressable LED indicator per device. The plant pod hub device now has multiple liquid connections, inputs and outputs, device collects nutrients and water from the system infrastructure, mixes it in corresponding ratio (Per plant) and dispatch it to the Plant pod device, which now has only one liquid connection. This approach allows  us to have independent Plant pod device, that you can take with you. For example, imagen roof top garden that you can visit and take the plants you want with you and then place them in the kitchen, ready for usage when you need them. In your kitchen you would only need to supply power for the operation of the piezo transducer (Aeroponic mode). The Plant pod hub now uses two peristaltic pumps instead of the individual electromagnetic valves, removing the need for pressurized system infrastructure.

    After completing these two main parts of the system (Plant pod and hub) we will continue to develop other parts of the system (Infrastructure, environment control, etc.).

    Proof of concept

    Here are some side projects developed as a tools for POC for the Plant pod project:

    Time lapse camera

    Using ESP32 CAM board, this allows us to document plants progress during tests. ESP sends pictures directly to Azure blob storage.

    Plant growing module (Space PVC pipe)

    These are some PVC pipes used to hold the test plants, we used Al. foil and kepton tape to prevent light ingress to the root area. One will be configured in aeroponic mode, using piezo transducer and the other one will be in hydroponic mode, using air pump to supply oxigen to the plants root system.

    The plant pod device V3

    Here is some rendering of the work in progress V3 Plant pod device

    This is the bottom part of the device, it will also have top part that is connected to it using pogo pins and magnets. Bottom of the device will have electrical and liquid connections with twist on/off action for attaching it and removing from the system. We also included some thermal insulation layer between inner and outer shells of the device itself, to enable lower energy consumption in extremely hot or cold environments.

  • The final sprint

    Nikola Secerovski07/09/2021 at 13:13 0 comments

    The Plant pod device design is in it's final stage, we have covered all the functionalities, test printed some of the design critical prats and here are some images.

  • Quick release design completed

    Nikola Secerovski06/14/2021 at 18:08 0 comments

    Here are some renderings of the completed Quick release system for the Plant pod . Next step is to 3D print test parts to validate all dimensions and seals, and if that all goes according to plan, next step is to print final versions of the parts.

  • Coil winding

    Nikola Secerovski06/12/2021 at 16:45 0 comments

    Latest attempt to simplify construction of the solenoid part of the eclectic valve/pump...

    Here is some aluminum tape cut to width of about 20mm, used in place of magnetic wire. We will test this type of coil further, and post update with the results...

  • Cross section

    Nikola Secerovski06/04/2021 at 09:03 0 comments

    Here is the cross section of nearly completed device, Plant pod part, just to be exact :)

  • Plant pod top module

    Nikola Secerovski06/03/2021 at 10:57 0 comments

    Here are some images of the Plant pod top module...

  • Precision you seek my young...

    Nikola Secerovski05/20/2021 at 05:38 0 comments

    These ware the candidates for sensing liquid level in the Plant pod device:

    1. Solid state capacitive sensor

    2. Custom encoder strip based (Optical)

    3. Custom magnetic encoder based

    And the winner is! Custom magnetic encoder based one, and here is why. 

    - Solid state capacitive sensors are usually designed to sense water level, which isn't the case here. Liquid solution used in this case can have different conductivity levels depending on the chosen solution. They are also sensitive to human presence, non linear and have a level resolution of about 1mm, which in our case is translated to about  11ml of liquid. Here is an example of solid state sensor

    - Custom encoder strip solution uses optical type of  the encoder and the bar strip, similar as you can find in the desktop printers. Resolution can be in the range of 0.125mm which translates to a resolution of about 1.375ml. Reading is linear and precise, but considering environment of the operation (Liquid and moisture) we decided that this is not a good choice. 

    - Custom magnetic encoder solution. If take an example of 12bit axial magnetic encoder, we get an approximate resolution of 0.08789° per bit, and if we substitute the values in the arc length formula 

    l = 2πr (θ/360)

    for the given gear diameter, we get a result of 0.005mm of horizontal travel resolution which translates to a 0.055ml resolution, not bad, that is pretty precise. And what about accuracy? Well if you take a look on the next picture

    you can see there is a split in the gear. Gear is actually designed to minimize backlash (Spring load between two parts of the gear) and provide best possible accuracy and precision. There is one more thing to solve, and that is an liquid level offset, before EVA foam float starts to move, it needs some minimum liquid level, but this value is tied to the buoyancy, which can be considered constant, and sensor has down position detection, so this value can be automatically compensated by the software.

    Except from measuring exact liquid level in the Plant pod device, this sensor will be used to auto calibrate pump/valve system, that will then also be capable to estimate operation time/number of cycles for the injection of the required amount of the liquid.

  • Industrial application

    Nikola Secerovski05/17/2021 at 11:46 0 comments

    Here are some examples of industrial environment configurations. The smallest unit is 2m long, and has 10 individual Plant pod devices, than that module(unit) can scale both horizontally and vertically. The yellow carrier profile provides structural support for the individual devices, and also a way to route liquid an electrical connection and provide support for light source, artificial, natural or mixed mode lighting.

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Nathan Stanley wrote 06/23/2021 at 03:26 point

This is a very cool project and I really love the concept renderings. Looking forward to seeing how it progresses!

  Are you sure? yes | no

Nikola Secerovski wrote 04/08/2021 at 18:17 point

The common mixing tank would mean that all the plants in line share the same nutritional mix, and we wanted to avoid that. Glass bulb sensors are not an option, we are considering some kind of the solid state solutions, like ISFET or solid state carbon electrode array sensors. Solid state sensors are quite reliable and robust. ISFET sensors have a downside, they are sensitive to light, so that implementation would require some kind of light isolation, like bell siphon or something similar...

  Are you sure? yes | no

Morberis wrote 04/08/2021 at 16:34 point

What do you have for a robust PH sensor? Cheap ones seem to need a lot of maintenance and to be replaced quite often. Based on the cost for my own projects it seemed like it would be more cost efficient to go with something able to measure PH for a whole system with a mixing tank that then delivers to plants.

So I'm wondering how you managed to make it workable.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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