Building PFC’s as a Group in a FabLab

#1

We are starting a project to build a series of PFC’s here in Switzerland. We plan to do it as a group of makers at a newly opened FabLab here in Zug, Switzerland. One of our goals is to show the benefits of doing this as a FabLab project where multiple participants bring their expertise to the table. The idea is to take the results of the LuSi Box and improve/expand using the knowledge in the OpenAG community to build a prototype of a PFC and then – after improving the result – build 5-10 of these PFC’s. If all works out as planned, we will be collecting recipes and posting them to the OpenAG cloud sometime in the fall.

We want to support recording and execution of recipes and plan to somehow measure the phenome of our plants as they grow. Instead of doing this all from scratch we want to build on what is available in these areas. Our final goal is to be able to replicate great growth results with our objective being great taste and nutritional value.

We are interested in a larger grow chamber than PFC 3.0. We are looking at ideas to build a modular system that can be attached to grow chambers of different sizes. One module will be the brain of the system, another a collection of sensors and a third the grow chamber itself. Since we also want to support climate control we are looking for ways to heat and cool the chamber beyond just blowing ambient air into the chamber. To that end we are thinking of using a fridge as a chamber. Or something like a BedJet to control temperature. What is the current goto solution for heating/cooling a chamber?

In order to grow larger plants we are also thinking of using a tent of sorts – some kind of fabric laid over a framework.

Everything depends on having different grow chambers that can execute the same recipe format. The design will be flexible so that certain variables can optionally be manually set after getting alarms – e.g. refilling nutrition solutions etc. This way we can continuously improve setups by adding new actuators as we get better. The sensor support has to be set in place from the beginning to enable the interaction of manual and automatic control. One of our first steps will be to checkout the software/hardware options we have.

Obviously this confronts us with the whole array of issues surrounding the subject: light, nutrition, climate control, plantstress, recipe recording and sharing, cost of building and operating a grow chamber, etc.

Some topics that are being discussed:

  • Which hardware/ software to use? Raspberry v. beaglebone?
  • Aeroponics v. hydroponics?
  • Climate control by using ambient air instead of a heating/cooling unit?
  • How to measure the state of a growing plant (phenome)?
  • Choice of light spectrum/ LED panels?
  • Light intensity/ distance between light source and plant?
  • Use of natural light or LED light exclusively?
  • Recipe format for interchange?
  • Cloud Platform for recipe sharing?

We would appreciate any help we can get. Point us to good sources of information. Or to groups that have tried similar projects and are ready to share their experiences. Anything that could help us getting up to speed.

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#2

Here are some starting points where you could begin your research. For the external projects and companies, you will probably find a lot of interesting information in their blogs, community forums, and documentation.

External Projects & Companies

Forum Links

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#3

thanks Will for mentioning us. Chris @Cebuna what a fabulous project.

We’ve just started a small crowdfunding for our 6th iteration of the AstroPlant maker kit - upgraded designs, improved backend system, and more. Possibly interesting for Chris, is that we have 5 kits in Switzerland already and 4 more being fabricated in the coming weeks by Onlfait fablab with a couple of schools (agri/electronics). They’ve also already committed a new hardware design to the main AstroPlant repo and will improve camera integration. They could be interested in joining forces, and they’re also in contact with the Swiss Space Office for funding.

If the scientific protocols are followed, the data will be used for plant characterisation as part of the circular space / closed loop life support initiative MELiSSA (part of the European Space Agency), but since it’s also an open source community project end-users with certain skills and expertise are of course free to experiment with the kit, the protocols, and the system to come up with better designs and even new use cases (like you propose).

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