Version 8
    Vertical Farming Design Challenge

      All About Vertical Farming

      Overview Video


      Terms and Conditions

      Kit List


    We challenged innovators of the world to build the farm of tomorrow to satisfy the needs of a rocketing human population – predicted to grow by 23% in the next 25 years.

    15 global challengers sewed their seeds, harvested and enjoyed an abundance of lettuce in a 5 month race to design and build the most energy and water efficient mini farm, supported by SILICON LABS and WÜRTH ELECKTRONIK products, who provided the base kit from which to develop the farms.


    With shrinking farm land consumed by expanding cities, we will be forced to expand up rather than out. Vertical farming is challenging the way we grow our food and places like Singapore are already embracing vertical agriculture now as a sustainable answer to tomorrow’s very real problem, distributing food supplies to their communities from these new intensive farmers.


    After much conversation, our judging panel made up of experts in the vertical agriculture field and sponsors decided on these 3 finalists:

    Our Grand Prize Winner is...


    image05 v2.jpg

    Jose Marques from Portugal is our overall grand prize winner for his Modular Farm Project!


    Judges comments:


    “Jose showed a great approach to vertical farming which can be easily re-produced by others and truly hits the target of what we thought the outcome should be. Especially his in-detail explanation and step-by-step build-up of his project convinced me in the end.” Simon Leuz, Würth Elektronik


    “Great enhancement with solar power and control with the Zero Gecko kit” Roy Druian, Silicon Labs


    With great images and screenshots, he shows off the knowledge gained from the front and back end of vertical farming very well.” Henry Gordon-Smith, Association for Vertical Farming



    Jose has won the grand prize worth over $2000 including: Military Grade - Portable Solar Power Kit, Nest Learning Thermostat, Wurth Elektronik Energy Harvesting Kit featuring the EFM32GG Giant Gecko M3 Kit from Silicon Labs  and a donation the AFV of $250 in Jose's name.


    We had a chance to catch up with Jose about the challenge and being selected as the winner of this challenge.


    element14: What was your reaction to winning?

    Jose: That was a pleasant surprise. It’s an honor to receive the first prize after such a long and tough competition. Being first among such great projects makes me very proud of what was accomplished.


    element14:  What part would you consider the most fun of the project?

    Jose: Undoubtedly the growing part. Seeing and documenting the small seeds becoming baby leafs and finally grown lettuces is always amazing! Of course being able to taste the final result is also nice! As an engineer I also enjoyed the challenge itself of building a functional product, it’s a different fun… but the small achievements were an extra motivation to keep things going week after week.

    element14:  What was the most challenging?

    Jose: I think that connecting all the sensors and actuators was complicated. In the middle of the process there were several issues and, as everyone knows, developing software for two or more systems is a complex task. Another challenge was the lettuce growing process using a 100% artificial system. We moved directly to a hydroponic Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system with artificial lighting. This gave a lot of freedom and also a lot of uncertainty. But the holistic approach of a sustainable system with renewable energy generation and storage, fully automated with vision system and artificial intelligence made things challenging as a whole due to the amount of work and individual tasks complexity.


    element14:  What other builds did you follow along with in the challenge?

    Jose: I followed closely the Vertically Oriented Modular System from Rick Reynolds and the Adapted Greenhouse from Michael Ratcliffe. Sometimes I felt guilty to not having the time to follow every project but at a certain point the work become so intense that the time became really scarce.


    element14: What advice would you give to other members who are doing, or thinking of doing a design challenge?

    Jose: Do it! Plan things in advance, discuss ideas, write things down, look for help when needed, be ambitious, and try to get motivated. But don’t hesitate to give the first step.


    element14: Thanks Jose, congratulations on the winning project!

    Jose: Thank you. It was really a pleasure to be part of the community and be able to share our achievements. It was also rewarding to hear and learn from all the comments and feeling that we could help and inspire other members.

    I would like to congratulate all the finishing challengers for their great job and the sponsors who were kind enough to supply the parts that made possible to build upon. I also would like to congratulate the organizers who did a nice job on getting things arranged, were always very receptive to help and clarify any question and by the pertinence and relevance of the theme that hopefully will inspire more and more people to engage on the challenge of provide food for them and for their communities in a sustainable and secure way. I also would like to recognize the Association for Vertical Farming for being a driving force on this subject.

    Finally a word of appreciation for some close friends who helped to make possible to accomplish such an ambitious goal in such a short time. They were enthusiastic enough to support me on the hard times while keeping motivation high.

    Last but not least, to my son Hugo who was born during the course of the challenge and was an inspiration to leave a small contribution to solve a problem that is ours, but will impact on the next generations too.



    In Second Place:

    Primary photo

    Michael Ratcliffe from the UK for his Automated Green House project.


    Judges comments:

    “Great understanding of the growing process and overall insight” Roy Druian, Silicon Labs


    “Michael Ratcliffe's solution of the Automated Greenhouse is the ideal response to the needs of growers around the world. The information he offers through various means of sensors, automation, and nutrient delivery contribute notably to the vertical farming dialogue. The inclusion of aquaponics only adds to the important lessons being shared via this highly-sustainable form of decentralized agriculture” Henry Gordon-Smith, Association for Vertical Farming


    Michael has won the grand prize worth over $700:

    Michael will receive: A foldable solar panel, Nest Learning Thermostat, and a donation the AFV of $250 in their name.



    In Third Place:


    James O’Donnell from the USA for his Vertical Hydroponics Farm Project.


    Judges comment:


    “Great work in producing lettuce, feeding the family” Roy Druian, Silicon Labs


    James has won the grand prize worth over $500:

    James will receive a Nest Learning thermostat and a donation the AFV of $250 in their name.







    Feel free to leave your comments and questions or have a go at this challenge yourselves even though the competition has now ended.

    ‘Growing up is something we will all have to do!’





    We would like to take this opportunity to thank our Sponsors:


    Silicon Labs and Würth Elektronik


    The kit provided to each contest included the below (valued at around $1400): 


    Silicon Labs: 

    • EZR32WG 868MHz Wireless Starter Kit*
    • Sensor Puck
    • EFM32ZG-STK3200 Zero Gecko Starter Kit

    *the following frequencies were made available the following frequencies as a replacement to the 868 MHZ due to country restrictions:  169MHz, 434 MHz, 490MHz, or 915 MHz.

    Würth Elektronik:

    • Power Inductor Design Kit SKU 744 383
    • LED Kit Design Kit: SKU 150 151
    • Switches Design Kit: SKU 499 001
    • Capacitor Design Kit: SKU 885 070, SKU 885 080, SKU 885 060


    Stay tuned for more exciting Design Challenges coming soon!