Vertical gardening, aeroponics, artificial intelligence, robotics and blockchain - all in one project
In December 2017, I looked at a list of emerging technologies and was fascinated to read about the progress in so many different areas, but one of them caught my eye more than the others - Vertical farming.
To be frank, building a shelf with some LED lights and some pipes for water didn’t look challenging or innovative enough. I wanted to combine the latest advances in robotics, machine learning and blockchain as well as solve some of the problems we have with plastic waste as well as food waste, especially in the large cities. And in January 2018, I started Growbotics.ai project.
So, let’s have a look at the technologies that should help lift this project off the ground.
Vertical Farming — the idea is to construct stackable cubes that would be 1m x 1m x 1m in size and to make them out of wood and recycled plastic. Each mini greenhouse would have LED lights and a computer inside to track temperature, humidity and growth progress in general. The cubes would be designed to be placed outdoors and get the added energy boost from the sun and possible wind. We could make cube edges out of 10 to 12mm thickness bamboo canes that would get joined using plastic joints. Initially, we would 3D print the required connectors, but later replace 3D printed parts with injection moulding technology and recycled plastic. A lot of inspiration comes from the Precious Plastic project.
In aeroponics, plants spend 99.98% of their time in the air and 0.02% in direct contact with the hydro-atomised nutrient solution. The idea would be to use food waste and transform it to organic worm humus, then mix it with water and release this nutrient solution through the nozzles at regular intervals or when needed.
Robotics — the first few prototypes will have to be assembled by hand, but the goal and the vision are to have a fully autonomous robotic assembly line and also no need for human involvement to expanding the stackable cube system and also look after it.
Artificial intelligence — or perhaps more specifically machine learning is applicable in many different aspects of this project. Camera built inside each cube could use computer vision to monitor the growth of the plant, detect if the seeds are sprouting on time. Arguably, the most exciting application of AI would be to apply reinforcement learning. The observable environment would be all possible sensors (temperature, humidity, light, power consumption, etc.). And all the actionable choices (turn the lights on or off or change the colour, spray the nutrient solution, shut the blinds, etc.) would form the action space. This way the system could learn how to save power and water and still grow healthy and tasty plants.
Blockchain —is what should allow attracting many contributors to this project and instead of saying just “thank you”, reward a contribution with some amount of cryptocurrency. All software and hardware designs produced by Growbotics.ai project should be open source, but people who are contributing to improve the design or promote the project would get their share. The idea would be to create something like Liquid democracy — a Decentralized Autonomous Organization, open source all the sketches, pieces of software code, hardware design and let the community move this project forward and commercially benefit from doing so. If people would want to grow plants in this cube system, they could freely do so, but if they would like to sell their yields through Growbotics.ai network to local restaurants, perhaps small percentage (5% or so) of fiat currency could be exchanged for Growbotics.ai cryptocurrency.
So what problem does this project intend to solve? In fact, few problems — turn plastic and food waste into something useful and also grow local organic herbs and mushrooms all year round rather than bring them on the planes. There’s no intention to replace other gardening methods, but this would allow getting fresh herbs and mushrooms on the table in just a few hours after harvesting them. Restaurants could grow some of it by themselves or get from the neighbours.
Next steps? The design and the construction of the first prototype are currently in progress and is expected to see the daylight in May 2018. Once it’s ready, there will be a blog post about it, and perhaps this cube could be displayed somewhere in London, maybe in a pub with a garden.