GroPod© Space Garden - Growing Beyond Earth

Introduction: GroPod© Space Garden - Growing Beyond Earth

About: Founder and CEO at Heliponix© | Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni | TEDx Alumni Wabash College | IFT Member

We provide consumers with the GroPod©, a smart garden appliance with a Seed Pod™ subscription that could be described as "Keurig for food". Our automated, hydroponic hardware combined with smart, cloud software allows anyone to become a farmer regardless of their climate, space, or existing knowledge of agriculture.

Co-Founders Scott Massey and Ivan Ball previously designed an environmentally controlled, hydroponic growth chamber for Dr. Cary Mitchell at Purdue University funded through a NASA grant. The purpose that research study was to optimize LED spectrum of lighting by analyzing the amount of CO₂ entering the chamber, and oxygen leaving the chamber to map photosynthetic efficiencies under different environments in real time.

Despite many low-cost, hobbyist hydroponic devices in the market, few are financially viable options for food production due to energy consumption. Only our ROTARY AEROPONIC™ system with multiple mechanical and electrical utility patents to yield 120-150 grams/kWh which is a 3X increase in efficiency compared to most commercial farms! The GroPod's monthly energy cost is less than $7 per month assuming you are paying the average, national energy price ($0.12 per kWhr). This TRIPLES the yields, and with HALF the power consumption of any competing system while greatly reducing light pollution and canopy closure preventing lower leaves from receiving light or burning the upper canopy. The GroPod's clean-in-place design autonomously cleans the system with easy to remove components that could be sanitized in a dishwasher.

In addition to optimizing the cubic yield potential to its fullest geometric extent with the least amount of lighting possible to conserve energy; one must also consider the design to be a function of time. Although some growing techniques use stacked layers of drip irrigation on growing media, these growth rates are limited to 2-3 months, and yield little vegetables in terms of pounds per square foot per month. We opted to use aeroponics to mist the roots with the optimal droplet size from our nutrient reservoir to achieve a consistent 1 month growth rate. Although this current proposal comfortably holds 20 plants inside of the Space Garden, the next iteration would reduce the reservoir cavity to increase the cultivation chamber height to add another GroRing™ to hold 30 plants inside of the Space Garden. Assuming the International Space Station could replicate our 30 day growth rates, the Space Garden could hold 30 plants, the germination failure rate could be brought to near zero, then this design could yield a full vegetable plant for consumption daily.

Follow us on Facebook as we continue growing to become the world's largest farming company without owning a single acre of land!

This instructable will demonstrate how a to make a GroPod Space Garden™ in the 50 cm³.

Supplies:

Mechanical Hardware:

Tools:

  • Pop Rivet Gun
  • Caulk Gun
  • Clamps
  • Rubber Mallet
  • Drill with 3/16" drill bit
  • Hole saw 3 1/4" hole saw
  • Jig Saw
  • File
  • Phillips Screw Driver
  • Flat Head Screw Driver
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Wire Strips
  • Ratchet set
  • Wire crimps
  • (1) 12V 200W power supply
  • (1) Senserion SCD30 Temperature/Humidity/CO2 Sensor
  • (1) Custom PCB motherboard (Supplied by Heliponix, LLC)
  • (2) 12V 80mm fans
  • (1) 12V diaphragm water pump
  • (1) hall effect flow sensor
  • (1) 19” Full spectrum LED Array
  • (1) LED driver
  • (1) NEMA 23 Stepper motor
  • (1) 12V water valve
  • (1) UVC LED module
  • (1) 40 pin header ribbon cable
  • (1) micro USB cable
  • (1) magnetic door switch
  • (1) 5MP USB camera
  • (1) Ultrasonic water level distance sensor
  • (1) 21cm x 21cm x 11.5cm electrical enclosure
  • (8) M3 x 15mm machine mounting screws
  • (8) M3 x 10mm standoffs
  • (4) M2.5 x 15mm machine mounting screw
  • (4) M2.5 x 15mm machine mounting screw
  • (2) quick disconnect terminals

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Step 1: Cut the Fluted Polopropylene Sheet Into a Square, and Punch Holes.

Cut the Fluted Polypropylene Sheet into a 19" square, and use a hole punch to make 3/16" holes every three inches on three of the four sides of the base. The perimeter of these holes should be 0.5" from the outside edges.

Step 2: Add Aluminum Trim, and Pop Rivet Into Place With Glue.

Use the holes on the Fluted Polopropylene Sheet to guide the secondary 3/16" diameter holes on the 1" aluminum trim. Apply glue to the inside of the aluminum trim that is in contact with the Fluted Polopropylene Sheet, and tighten the pop rivets with washers on the on the side of the Polopropylene Sheet.

Step 3: Add the Three Sides, and Use Aluminum Tape to Make a Reflective Wall.

Again, drill 3/16" holes 3" apart on a 0.5" perimeter on the side panels. Use aluminum tape to add a sheet of aluminum foil to act as a light reflector on the Fluted Polypropylene Sheet. Use glue to seal these panels together, and tighten pop rivets with washers on the side of the Fluted Polypropylene Sheet. The bottom panel does not require reflective material since this would be the floor of the reservoir cavity.

Step 4: Add the Vertical Aluminum Trim Extrusion, and the Horizontal Supports.

Mark the 3/16" diameter holes 3" apart, and in a 0.5" perimeter on the side corners. Apply glue between the fluted polypropylene sheet and the aluminum trim, and then tighten the pop rivets with a washer on the side facing the fluted polypropylene sheet.

Tighten pop rivets on the aluminum extrusions 9.75" from their top face to the floor of the cultivation chamber. This will allow clearance for the hydroponic reservoir to be removed.

You can now see where the nutrient reservoir, electrical enclosure, and the pump will be located at.

Step 5: Assemble the Top Panel, Attach It to the Frame, and Install Hinges.

Use the same assembly method to attach the aluminum trim extrusion to the edges of a 19" square panel of fluted polypropylene sheet with glue on the overlapping faces. Then use pop-rivets with washers to mechanically fasten the pieces together. Apply aluminum tape to make the surface as reflective as possible, and apply a weighted load on the interior side of the panel on the ground for 24 hours to allow the glue to cure.

After the glue has cured, apply more glue on the sides, and back panel faces of the aluminum trim that will over lap the fame. Drill holes along the trim, and use pop-rivets with washers to permanently seal the top lid to the base frame.

Use the hinge set to drill pilot holes on the desired side of the door hinge. Apply some glue to the mating hinge face to the aluminum trim extrusion, and the screw in the screws to firmly secure the hinge. If the hinge is not firmly secure to the frame, the apply clamps, and let cure for 24 hours.

Add the acrylic sheet to the door hinges, use the magnetic tape to make a door seal, and add the handle for ease of opening/closing.

Step 6: Install Electrical Components

  1. Install the 12V power supply, Raspberry Pi, and motherboard into the 21cm x 21cm x 11.5cm electrical enclosure using 10mm standoffs, M3 screw, M2.5 screws, and hot glue. Orientate the components as shown in the image to ensure all connections are easily accessible. Images contain labels and locations.
  2. Install 80mm fans in the front 2 corners of the GroPod. Use (8) 1 inch #6 phillip pan head screws and #6 nuts to mount the fans. Make sure the wires are facing towards the back of the GroPod to install into the electrical enclosure later. Images contain labels and locations.
  3. Install 19 inch LED array at a 45 degree angle facing the center bushing hole of the GroPod. Images contain labels and locations.
  4. Install ultrasonic water level sensor using 2 rivets and a washer. Use UL approved foil tape to route the wiring across the top of the lower section of the GroPod. Images contain labels and locations.
  5. Install UVC sanitization LED using 2 rivets and a washer. Use UL approved foil tape to route the wiring across the top of the lower section of the GroPod. Images contain labels and locations.
  6. Install the 12V water inlet valve in the back left corner of the lower region of the GroPod using 2 rivets. Images contain labels and locations.
  7. Make a 7 wire cable harness for the Senserion SCD30 sensor. Use connectors that have a 2.54mm spacing to connect into a small breadboard.
  8. Install the Senserion SCD30 sensor using a small breadboard, double-sided thermal adhesive tape. Hang the sensor over the edge of the breadboard to ensure proper air flow around the sensor. Reference the Senserion SCD30 documents and datasheet to properly mount the sensor. Images contain labels and locations.
  9. Customize a sensor cover using the magnetic strip container or other water resistant cover. Cut vent holes out to ensure proper air flow and protection from water.
  10. Install stepper motor. Drill a hole for the motor shaft. Trace the outside of the motor using a dry erase marker to mark the outer edge relative to the shaft hole. Trace the motor holes onto a piece of paper and lay the paper onto the traced motor's outer edge. Drill the motor mounting holes using the traced paper. Images contain labels and locations.
  11. Install door proximity sensor on the opposite side of the hinges. Mount the sensor using double sided adhesive tape or rivets. Orientate the sensor so that the wires will run along the top of the lower region. Use UL approved foil tape to hold up the wires. Images contain labels and locations.

Step 7: Software

Software Features:

  • Read Temperature (Celcius)
  • Read Humidity (Percent Relative Humidity)
  • Read CO2 (ppm)
  • Read Water flow (LPM)
  • Read Water level (cm)
  • Relay control to turn ON/OFF LED array to a set photoperiod
  • PWM control to adjust 0-10V LED output intensity to save energy
  • Relay control to turn ON/OFF water pump
  • Relay control to open/close the water inlet valve to maintain a set water level
  • Relay control to turn ON/OFF air inlet fans to maintain temperature and humidity
  • Relay control to turn ON/OFF UVC sanitizing LED
  • Driver control to enable stepper motor and adjust rotation speed
  • Capture images and video using Camera
  • Store images and video on external hard drive or use the embedded microSD card
  • Door OPEN/CLOSE sensor to disable motor rotation and UVC LED

Steps:

  1. Use Balena Etcher to flash the microSD card with a lite Rasbian image. Follow these instructions to setup the Raspberry Pi for remote programming.
  2. ssh into your Pi and run "sudo apt install git" command to install git packages.
  3. Follow these instructions to setup the Pi to run the "main.py" script on bootup from the GroPod Space Garden Repo. Be sure to use the GroPod repository instead of the "myscript.py" example in the instructions.
  4. Add logic to the main function of the main.py script to grow your choice of plants. Use the software features list above for ideas on programming your GroPod.
  5. Reboot the Pi and enjoy your fully automated GroPod space garden!

Step 8: Plumb the System, and Conduct the Wet Test to See If Any Leaks Are Visible.

Use Teflon tape to cover the male threads of the pump, flow meter, and pipe nipple to ensure water tight fits.

Tighten the pump assembly into place with the 90-degree hose barb at the hose inlet, and the outlet with the PVC elbow, flow meter, and the hose barb. Flip the growing chamber upside down to mark the hole pattern of the pump in the back corner by poking a sharp point through the fluted polypropylene sheet. Then use a 3/16" drill bit to enlarge these pilot holes. Use the 6-32 nut and bolt with washers to firmly secure the diaphragm pump in place. Be sure to use a washer on the side of the fluted polypropylene sheet.

Push on the hose over the hose barbs, and connect the hose inlet with the stainless steel hose barb, and plastic strainer. Install a segment of 1/4" LDPE hose to the water inlet valve that will add water to the reservoir when water levels are low. This will fully automate the water addition process, so a manually actuated syringe is no longer needed.

After the tower has been assembled, and the top permanently secured to the top, you are ready to mark the hole pattern of the centered drop ear elbow on the top panel of the fluted polyproplyene sheet. Then use a 3/16" drill bit to enlarge these pilot holes. Use the 6-32 nut and bolt with washers to firmly secure the drop ear elbow in place. Attach the hose from the pump configuration outlet to the drop ear elbow to complete the plumbing. Be sure to use a washer on the side of the fluted polypropylene sheet.

Step 9: GroPod© Space Garden Completed!

You can now begin your growth trial of the GroPod© Space Garden. We highly recomend that the user only supply their seeds and growing media from reputable vendors to ensure successful growth trial. Fortunately, we provide these seed pods`as a subscription at GroPod.io

Step 10: CAD File of Model.

See attached STEP file of the GroPod© Space Garden. All rights reserved.

Step 11: Thank You for Joining Our Food Revolution

Our proprietary design has very high yields with low energy consumption. Instead of trying to decide how big our form factor could be scaled, we instead asked ourselves, "what is the smallest this form factor could be condensed into a viable product?". Decentralized technologies have a tendency to scale much wider once their limiting factor has been eliminated. The largest taxi company (uber) does not own a fleet of vehicles, the largest lodging company (AirBNB) owns no chain of buildings, and in our case, the world's largest farm will own no land.

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    6 Discussions

    0
    acarp1
    acarp1

    4 weeks ago

    Great design but...things like gravity feed water pump I don't think will work if there is no apparent gravity to feed the pump.

    0
    ScottyNasty
    ScottyNasty

    Reply 4 weeks ago

    Thank you for your response. Please note the competition FAQs quoted below.

    Q: Do we need to consider the effects of microgravity in our design?
    A: By the parameters of the contest, no, you do not need to consider the effects of microgravity. Fairchild’s own analog “Veggie” systems use normal plant pots, and use a gravity-reliant water reservoir. However, the consideration of microgravity and its effects on orientation of the plants within the allowed volume may spark some ideas. Any gravity-reliant mechanisms that your design relies on can feasibly be replaced with equivalent mechanisms that use pressure, enclosures, or other means to achieve the same or similar effects. The focus of this contest is on the effective orientation and positioning of plants within the allowed volume.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Although I agree that it would be important to consider the effects of Gravity, it is not required in this challenge. As mentioned in the answer, there are several ways to replicate the gravitational dependent flow of water in a non-gravitational environment through various means. In regards to the seeds pods, the International space station would likely use a reusable net cup, and have a storage bay of seeds. I would presume they would engineer a method to convert human waste into a fertilizer/growing-media that could be used in the seed pods to sustainably grow without regular shipments of these inputs.
    0
    arthurdent
    arthurdent

    4 weeks ago

    This is very nice for home use, but... This has to be able to grow in microgravity/zero g and the root spray watering system would only wind up creating free floating water droplets that could get out of the enclosure and possibly short out the electronics.
    The seed pod idea is a good one, but since weight is at a premium a packet of seeds would weigh far less than a single seed pod.
    Otherwise this is a good idea.

    0
    ScottyNasty
    ScottyNasty

    Reply 4 weeks ago

    Thank you for your response. Please note the competition FAQs quoted below.

    Q: Do we need to consider the effects of microgravity in our design?
    A: By the parameters of the contest, no, you do not need to consider the effects of microgravity. Fairchild’s own analog “Veggie” systems use normal plant pots, and use a gravity-reliant water reservoir. However, the consideration of microgravity and its effects on orientation of the plants within the allowed volume may spark some ideas. Any gravity-reliant mechanisms that your design relies on can feasibly be replaced with equivalent mechanisms that use pressure, enclosures, or other means to achieve the same or similar effects. The focus of this contest is on the effective orientation and positioning of plants within the allowed volume.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Although I agree that it would be important to consider the effects of Gravity, it is not required in this challenge. As mentioned in the answer, there are several ways to replicate the gravitational dependent flow of water in a non-gravitational environment through various means. In regards to the seeds pods, the International space station would likely use a reusable net cup, and have a storage bay of seeds. I would presume they would engineer a method to convert human waste into a fertilizer/growing-media that could be used in the seed pods to sustainably grow without regular shipments of these inputs.
    0
    arthurdent
    arthurdent

    Reply 4 weeks ago

    I cede your points. All this is true, and I already know that this is going to be a challenge because nobody has ever tried to grow plants in long term microgravity before. BEFORE it was just experiments to see what happens, not to grow food for the astronauts, and this technology WILL be needed on Mars whenever we can get there: As it turns out Mars soil contains Calcium Perchlorate which is toxic to humans and growing food plants in Martian soil is out of the question. Your system would work, as well as all of the others posted here. It is just a matter of finding which ones are the best.

    0
    ScottyNasty
    ScottyNasty

    Reply 4 weeks ago

    Couldn't agree more. I personally believe that growing plants in zero gravity will be a limited focus as space transportation vehicles improve, and the focus will transition to low gravity environments on lunar and martian colonies. There have been some studies of plant physiology being greatly affected by zero-gravity environments.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MfWARdoF-o