Growth Monitor Pi Project Provides Plant Scientists with Affordable Remote Experiment Monitoring

Based on a Raspberry Pi, the GMpi offers equivalent functionality to growth monitoring products costing up to $1 million.

Researchers from at the Universities of Missouri and Arizona have published a paper detailing an affordable and adaptable remote monitoring platform for plant growth experiments, dubbed the Growth Monitor Pi — or GMpi for short.

"We wanted to be able to monitor some sensitive experiments but were travelling a lot at the time and couldn't find anything that completely met our needs with notifications and alerts at an affordable price," explains Makenzie Mabry, the corresponding author of the manuscript. "We hope that the GMpi is approachable for other plant scientists who wish to monitor their plants more closely, have extra security in alerting users to conditions in plant growth facilities, or just wish to increase reproducibility across studies."

The GMpi system, as the name implies, is based around a Raspberry Pi Model B+ single-board computer. Into the Raspberry Pi's general-purpose input/output (GPIO) header is connected a low-cost DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor, a TSL2491 light sensor, and a camera — a bill of materials which totals under $200, in contrast with commercial systems which the researchers say range from "$10,000 to more than $1,000,000" to deliver similar functionality.

"Many researchers do not have the funding or resources to afford expensive monitoring systems, but still would like to know the conditions their plants experience day-to-day," explains Mabry. "We also feel there is always room for improving reproducibility across science and hope that by providing an inexpensive and open source platform this will be more accessible to all scientists who wish to use it.

"When I am out of town," Mabry explains of the GMpi installed at the University of Missouri's Pires Lab, "I am still in the loop about what is going on with the chamber and plants and can delegate tasks to check on the plants when we get an alert that the facility is out of our specified range for temperature, humidity, or light."

The team's work, including full instructions on building your own, has been published in the Botanical Society of America's Applications in Plant Sciences journal for open access.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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