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In the Air Design Challenge

4 Posts authored by: dimonic

Apologies folks for the long gap between posts!


Things have been moving forward, although not as fast as I would like, and not ion all the areas I would like them to.


Things Achieved


  • Assembled a frame for the project - Ikea Gorm frame, fluorescent tube lighting - the lighting is GE's F40T12 Plant and Aquarium bulbs in a cheap fixture.
  • Started seedlings (require only moisture until after germination).
  • Assembled components and workbench - power supply, soldering station.


  • House renovations - I am coming to an end of my kitchen renovation project, which has unfortunately consumed almost all of my "spare" time.
  • I am still short a few components that are on back order - but this is not yet a blocker, as I have yet to utilize the things I have on hand.
  • Work schedule - I have been "under the gun" at work on an embedded project (our next generation Ground Penetrating Radar) which frankly has been taking most of my mind share lately.


Enough of the excuses already, here are some pictures.


Next Steps

  • Install OS on Beaglebone Black. Add ROS packages, configure and test.
  • Setup development environments for the CC3200 and MSP430.
  • Integrate the microcontrollers with the Beaglebone Black using ROS.
  • I have a circuit design for the pH meter (although this is not a high priority item, I happened to receive this sensor already, so I will incorporate it). Next is to build and test the circuit.
  • I have a moisture and temperature sensor (TH75 based) - connect and test.

Another day, another delivery. This time, a shiny Tenma pH probe has arrived - a delicate looking affair, with the tip sealed into a tiny bottle containing some liquid. This weekend I will hook up the parts to do some initial testing of the sensor.


Plan of action:


  1. Setup OS on Beaglebone, connect it to my network (and Internet).
  2. Get MSP430FR5969 started - connect the pH probe to it, and try out some initial code.
  3. Get Beaglebone talking to the MSP430FR5969, and have some logging going on.


I notice that a humidity/temperature sensor has also arrived, so I will also hook that up and test it.


I am going to get a cheap shelf unit from Ikea which is 2 feet deep, over 2 feet long, and 4 shelves tall. I can sling fluorescent lights under the higher shelves, and plastic growing trays beneath them. Later I will get some heavy duty transparent PVC and fabricate a cover, to complete my cheap greenhouse prototype.


My first actual planting time will be next weekend - for spring season Tomatos, so enough must be ready before then.

My team is assembled.

I have the following amazing people ready to pull the project from possibility to implementation:


Peter Steadman - project guru, mentor

Myself - chief programmer and integrator

Alana Gaudet - green expert and gardener extraordinaire

Jason Niu - Aquaponics expert

Keith Thomson - Electronics wizard

Stephanie Amann - kid-wrangler and all round support


What we may measure and control.


Water - One of the principle things people get wrong in gardening. We will use soil humidity sensors and motorized water valves to regulate watering for optimal growth, with specific table driven watering patterns for various crops.


Lighting (both natural and artificial) is crucial for optimal growth. We will measure and control that. Canada's winter may have too little - I am considering LCD lighting as the most efficient artificial provider.


Temperature is important - most plants have an optimal range for healthy growth, and we need to measure and control that.


Humidity control is desirable for optimal growth and minimal disease of plants. We will measure and control that.


Soil Quality. This is more tricky - pH, organic nitrogen, other elements are important. We can consider measuring concentration of salts (to avoid over/under-fertilization).


Air - plants (when photosynthesizing) consume CO2 and emit O2. We can measure these and chart them. We will control air-flow with vents/fans, which will also control temperature.


There may be other factors I haven't yet thought of. The team will decide.



Broadbrush design.


I like the idea of inter-connectable modular greenhouse units. These modules could be individually covered, or open (to use in a larger greenhouse or indoors). They could have individual lighting or not.

Each unit would be self contained, communicating to the central computer system, and grow one crop. They would be daisy chain-able to others. We could also utilize the same sensors for conventional (outdoor bed) gardening, and measure/control irrigation.


I am seeing use of the Beaglebone as the central computer, aggregating information from the microcontroller satellites, publishing data to the cloud.


Each modular unit would have a CC3200 based controller with WiFi for communication with the Beaglebone.


Modules may (additionally) have MSP430 based sensor and/or actuator modules, possibly using CC2500 for wireless data transmission especially where wires would be inconvenient or impractical.

Firstly - thanks Element14 and Sponsors. This is an amazing opportunity. As a first reaction, I am a little staggered by the enormity of what I have taken on. My second reaction has been to reach out to people I know for assistance and encouragement.


The environment has long been a passion of mine, and at the same time I have always loved gadgets and building things. With this project I can scratch both itches, and advance my own understanding of electronics, software and agriculture.


My initial plan is to get the help of a few people with enthusiasm and/or knowledge in the areas of gardening, environment, sensors, actuators, microcontrollers and software. Then we will probably get together and shoot crazy ideas back and forth for a bit, capturing all ideas. Following that we will give ourselves some time to digest everything, and I will create some kind of framework for us to move forward from that point.