Vertical farming is defined as the process of cultivating plant life within a skyscraper greenhouse or on vertically inclined surfaces. While urban warehouses and rundown buildings may be among the last places you’d expect to find sustainable agriculture, farms in these spaces are now sprouting throughout the U.S. and the world.
By 2050, an estimated 80% of the world’s population will live in urban areas while the total population will increase by 3 billion people. If designed properly, this new cultivation technique may be able to eliminate the need to create additional farmland and pave the way for a cleaner environment. It is also believed that vertical farming offers a greener way to produce crops as it requires less water and fossil fuel, eradicates agricultural runoff and even provides fresher food.
Most recently, the team from Better Living Through Robotics has introduced their Robotic Urban Farm System (RUFS) which seeks to improve upon the aforementioned benefits by diminishing the use of water and soil. As one can see from its step-by-step tutorial, RUFS utilizes just a couple of everyday, easily-accessible hardware supplies such as a plastic downsprout to host the plants and PVC pipe to serve as the frame.
“We set out with the goal to design a hydroponic system that takes advantage of microcontroller revolution and utilizes parts readily available from your local hardware store. Vertical grow towers offer increased plant density, flexibility to adapt to indoor growing with hanging LED lights,” the team writes.
With RUFS, water usage is kept to a bare minimum thanks to its closed-loop watering system, meaning that instead of flowing down into the ground, any excess water is collected and saved for later use.
As Hackaday notes, the plants are placed in holes made along the side of a standard plastic downspout that hangs from a PVC frame. A standard plastic plant pot is then placed inside each of these holes and filled with hydroponic media, like coconut coir, clay, or perlite. That’s right, there is no dirt in this system!
When it comes to urban farming, this isn’t the first (nor will it be the last) time an [Atmel based] Arduino has been commissioned for the process. Similar to a number of other innovations previously seen on Bits & Pieces, RUFS is comprised of two Arduino-powered control systems, each one working independently from the another.
The first, ClimateBot, is used for environmental indoor applications by controlling light cycles and circulation fans, while the latter, pHarmBot, is responsible for water circulation and quality control. Not only does the pHarmBot water the plants at pre-determined on/off intervals, but the system also monitors the pH, nutrient and water levels inside the reservoir.
For those tech-savvy farmers, an optional add-on is also available — a Raspberry Pi-driven app that enables a farmer to track and care for their plants remotely. The Raspberry Pi records and logs sensor data from the AVR powered units, and then allows a grower to update their watering and lights schedule as well as analyze current levels of their system.
Interested in learning more? Better Living Through Robotics makes it easy to get growing today!