This project aims to further public awareness and understanding of technologies which will help ensure food security in the face of a changing climate. In particular, highly efficient aeroponic plant growing systems, in which the plant’s roots simply hang in the air whilst water and nutrients are transmitted to them in an aerosol. To this end, we will consult scientists, engineers and agricultural experts and devise a home aeroponic system which will allow interested members of the public to explore this technology. Building on this gathered expertise, and that of the small but growing aeroponic DIY enthusiast community, we will develop a low cost aeroponic growing unit prototype. Once this is complete, we will send revised aeroponic growing kits to 5 - 10 study participants to give them first-hand experience of growing plants aeroponically.
In its current form, large scale agriculture in developed countries faces a number of increasingly serious threats. These include topsoil degradation, inefficient and unsustainable land usage requirements, pesticide and fertiliser runoff. In the developing world, food security is often an immediate concern. Stable agriculture can easily be disrupted by extreme weather incidents or long dry periods, unstable legal-political scenarios, and the cost of pesticides and fertilisers. Crucially, all of the above issues will be exacerbated by global population growth and climate change. Aeroponic growing systems have the potential to address these issues. Solving these problems will require large scale political will and co-operation which will not be precipitated without sufficient public awareness of the extent of these problems, and their technical solutions.
Although aeroponics systems have been used to grow a large variety of plants including microgreens, potatoes and tomatoes, it is smaller leafy greens which will be of particular interest here due to their fast seed-to-harvest time, which will help to evaluate the success of the aeroponic system. Whilst the exact plants are not specified at this stage, likely candidates include lettuce, spinach and rocket. The use of these plants as a proxy for a more diverse array of fruits and vegetables will be investigated where possible.
Hardware Design Goals
The main hardware design goal of the project is to produce an engaging aeroponics kit to stimulate interest in high-tech agriculture. It will feature a number of sensors and user controls to stimulate engagement. Although a basic growth recipe will be provided, the interactive nature of the prototype will allow users to perform more detailed optimisation for their specific location. The prototype will be usable by people who have an interest in aeroponics, but may not have direct technical knowledge of its inner workings. Specifically, the prototype will feature temperature and humidity sensors, in addition to a camera, which will be broadcast using a networked Raspberry Pi. The misting device duty cycle will also be user controllable. The data from the sensors will be broadcast over the network so that they can be monitored via a web app that will be developed, which will also enable users to modify the duty cycle. The sensors also serve as a proof-of-concept that may be scaled up such that growth protocols for particular plant species could be optimised by a ‘citizen science’ effort; this will be encouraged by the design of the final aeroponic kit, which will be accessible to DIY users.
Outcomes and Benefits
The primary outcome of this project will be the development of an engaging and accessible aeroponic growing kit that will stimulate interest in, and discussion of high-tech. Further, provision of an integrated instrumentation suite with a web app for data visualisation will provide a valuable contribution to the small but thriving aeroponic enthusiast community. By stimulating interest we aim to encourage others to consider aeroponics as a potential solution for issues of food security in the face of greater demands and the threats of climate change.