They’re different. It’s difficult to explain how and why. I think it helps to consider the prototypes so far in terms of different people getting inspired by Caleb’s big picture vision and exploring how to apply it to their own areas of interest. It helps to consider who designed which plans and what their motivations and constraints were. One big area of difference is budget and access to tools. A related concept is hardware prototyping traditions: university robotics (big budget & low volume, machine shops, heavy duty metal frames, heavy duty wiring), Shenzhen style (3D printed plastic, injection molding, aluminum extrusion, breadboard prototyping, custom PCBs, cost sensitive mass production), and Maker style (all the stuff in Make magazine, focused on home hobbyists with limited tools plus people with access to community shops).
Tim from OpenAg likes to make things using machine tools to shape metal and acrylic. The hardware for MIT’s PFC designs is made in Tim’s style. This is a good fit for people at universities who have access to machine shops and the training to use them. The PFC electrical wiring and use of ROS software appear to be influenced by people who had exposure to building robots.
The software for the v1 and v2 PFCs was built in loosely coupled modules by several different people. Again, it makes more sense if you consider it as the result of different people exploring technologies they were interested in with limited coordination between their areas of responsibility. The new software is being written mostly by a new group of people. Rob is doing a lot of the work, and he’s mentioned having other engineers helping him at times. I’m not sure how that will unfold.
For the MVP, the name and concept originated in this thread: Growing food: I just ordered a MicroGrow Kit from Hamama. In particular, it came from Caleb’s comment on 28 March 2017 in that thread.
Peter and Howard, along with some other folks in St. Louis, collaborated to make what’s now known here as the MVP design. One of their big goals was to make the hardware design practical for school kids to build with simple hand tools. The electronics are a mix of Raspberry Pi and Shenzhen style prototyping. Howard did most of the software in a classic Unix command line automation style–cron, bash scripts, python scripts, and a bit of CouchDB. It’s very different from the PFC v1-v2.1 software, but it shares the ambition of crowd sourcing climate and phenotype observation data from a network of food computers. It’s like people have been trying to scale the same mountain from different directions. Nobody’s made it to the summit yet.
A couple other big things are happening here on the forum that aren’t necessarily oriented around crowd sourcing phenotype data. To me, this stuff is the most interesting part… Some folks are here to seek or share share information about custom hydro and aero systems for growing food at their house. There also seem to be a fair number of people working on data collection and automation systems for growing at a larger scale in a corporate or university context.
I don’t know what will happen with the older PFC stuff going forward. If you look at what OpenAg has announced in recent years that they wanted to do, and you compare that against what they’ve released publicly, it looks like they have more ideas than they have resources to act on those ideas. Starting this past winter, it seems like they have been narrowing their focus. So, that’s a good sign.
As far as I know, Rob and his team are only making software for the new hardware designs. He told me that he hopes to have a beta software release ready some time this summer. Other than the survey announcement in the OpenAg Update post from this March, I haven’t heard anything about plans for doing anything with the older PFC hardware designs. But, I can point out that the v1, v2, and v2.1 designs are already unmaintained and officially unsupported.