Autoponics Report

We met up at Solid State Depot around 1PM and started drawing up some plans for a setup to test different sprayers with the 1/2 horsepower 1″ water pump. Pretty quickly, we realized that we needed bins, more pipe and fittings, and a ball valve to make it all work. So, we went on a run to McGuckins to pick up supplies.

Liz, Willy and I worked on cutting, priming and gluing the PVC. We drilled and tapped 3 holes into a length of 1/2″ PVC for the sprayers, and put a pressure gauge at the end of the length to get a reading on psi.

The glue set while Dan and I cruised over to Bococo. The guys there were kind enough to hook us up with 2 IDE hard drives to get some new workstations up and running at our space.

When we returned, I filled up the reservoir and turned on the pump. Nothing happened. Well, the pump was running but no water was flowing. It turns out you have to get water into the system first, at least with the approx. 1′ rise we had in our intake line. Filled the pipe with some water by hand, then turned it on and it started flowing nicely.

Before the test we had no idea how much psi we’d be able to achieve with the pump. To operate misting nozzles you need 40-80 psi. When the system started up, the regulator valve was fully open, so the sprayer line was receiving hardly any pressure. At about halfway closed, the 1″ regulator valve raised the pressure in the spray line to about 25 psi which was enough to get the sprinkler-type spray nozzles working pretty well. Turning the regulator valve to ~80% closed sent the pressure up to 65 psi and the misting nozzles started producing a fine mist.

The brass nozzle creates the finest mist with the lowest flow rate. The white plastic nozzle creates a mist that’s slightly less fine, and it looks like more water flows out.

We wrapped the spray line with a section of 4″ sewer pipe to simulate the tube-within-a-tube setup for an aeroponics rig. In this video you can see the brass mister in the foreground, a sprinkler in the middle that is off (serving as a plug), and the other mister at the far end. The black thing at the near end of the sprayer line is the pressure gauge.

You can see how the mist from the far misting nozzle is bouncing off the tube and creating a nice chaotic blizzard of fine particles. This is good because it means the roots should get fairly even coverage as the mist blows around the interior of the pipe.

Thanks to Henry for bringing the waterproof video camera.

Carbon Fiber Fabrication

Why join a hackerspace?

Everyone has their own reason, but for me it’s mostly building a community to learn from and share with. But, there are practical reasons, too… some of my projects are messy!

A long time ago, I worked at a small satellite company and was good friends with the guy who built all the carbon fiber structures we used.  I watched the process many times and learned the techniques, but never made anything myself.  Fifteen years later, and I decided to try my hand at it — and got some good press for it!  My first experiments were in the basement of a big house I was staying in, but since then I’ve moved in to a much smaller place. Luckily, my office moved in to a much larger place and I could continue my work after hours there… until… that one day.  I was using Bondo to alter the shape of my mold — Bondo is extremely smelly stuff for the 5 minutes between the time you get it out of the can and the time it cures.  That’s the exact time my boss walked in and thought I was killing myself with the fumes. I need a hackerspace so that my boss doesn’t have another heart attack.

My first project used a simple mold.  I’ve been advancing my technique to learn more and more complicated mold-making methods that let me build more customized objects.  Now I’m trying to reproduce my hardshell backpack.  After a bunch of slight mistakes (documented on my flickr page), I made my first shell:

It’s a fully functional part, lighter but much stronger than the ABS plastic that my hardshell backpack originally came with. It also has kevlar embedded in it in case I fall off my motorcycle and this thing skids along the asphalt. But, this part is not quite up to my expectations cosmetically.  I could sand and clearcoat it and it would look great – but because the surface quality is a little poor to begin with and because I’ve got some big epoxy bubbles, this will take a lot of work. So, instead, I’m planning on trying another run – it’ll be quicker & easier.  I’d love to show the processes to anyone who is interested – hopefully in the next week or two.  Anyone up for a 2-hour demo some Saturday afternoon over pizza?  (it has to be an afternoon because I need to run a vacuum pump for several hours afterwards)  It won’t be a class per se, but you’ll learn lots of techniques and find, while there are bunch of steps, it’s not as hard as it looks. And about 1/10th the cost of buying carbon fiber parts commercially.

Suggested reading: West Systems has some great tutorials and free pdfs

— John Maushammer

Autoponics: The Future of Food

Growing  a plant seems like a fairly straightforward affair, right? Stick a seed in the ground, apply regular water and sunshine, and a few months later, voila.  Sure, that may cut it for the budding agriculturalists of 10,000 BP who had a small tribe to feed. But what about modern society and its globally interconnected community, 7 billion strong? Supplying these vast numbers with a variety of nutritious and tasty crops over and over  again, with failsafe protection from drought, disease, and pests…well, now things get a little more complex. Luckily, the grey matter of homo sapiens gives them a penchant for solving complex problems, and so humans have attacked the problem with an effective mix of hardware, chemicals and biotechnology, boosting crop yields and improving harvest reliability to support a global appetite.

Among our cadre of techno-ape innovations are combine harvesters, hand-crafted genomes, and bubbling brews of bug-killer which have all helped agricultural output keep pace with the insatiable demands of population growth. The approach we’ve taken thus far has put our full  confidence behind monocultures at the forefront, which, sturdied by a chemical crutch, have led to an under-recognized dark side of  farming—runoff. The term sounds innocuous, as if we’re talking about a bit of muddy water spilling off the farm into our waterways. In fact,  agricultural runoff is the number one cause of pollution planet-wide, contributing to the destruction of estuaries, coral reefs, acidification of the water table, loss of topsoil, nutrient leeching, biodiversity loss, and disease.

Step Aside Human, Your Work Here is Done

As if the environmental challenges weren’t reason enough to fix farming, there’s another item that I personally find the most interesting of the whole equation—the fact that people are actually still doing this stuff. I would have hoped that by now, 10,000 years past the agricultural revolution, and our species armed to the hilt with mind-blowing technology and computing power, us humans would have rendered ourselves irrelevant when it comes to attaining our calories.

Nourishment. It’s one of those annoying biological needs that we’ve had to deal with for too damn long. Don’t you think it’s about time we solved this whole labor-for-food thing once and for all? Plus, attaining food through labor has that nasty side effect of making it cost money. Sure, we’ve eliminated most jobs in farming with the  increased use of machinery, but there’s still plenty more work to do. I  want to see us get humans out of the picture altogether, up and down the  entire chain of production, processing, and distribution of the global food supply.

At each step in the process of getting food from the seed to your dinner  plate, opportunity for automation abounds, and automation is becoming more a part of our farming reality every day. Robotic seed sorters and planters, computer-controlled indoor environments free of pathogens and pests, waste recycling, pruning, harvesting, packing, shipping…all of these fit in with the idea of Autoponics.

In its highest form, Autoponics is the total cybernation of the complete seed-to-harvest,  packaging and distribution processes of food production.

The end game of Autoponics is worldwide food security through low- or zero-cost,  zero-waste, abundant and sustainable computerized food production, marking the end of human labor in the agricultural sector altogether. I want to see people value food like they value water—vitally important, but you think I’m gonna pay for that? The stuff falls out of the sky. It ought to be free.

So, you could say I want to make food fall from the sky. However, its more about taking food to the sky, in skyscrapers. Combine autoponics with vertical farming, an idea championed by Dickson Despommier in his new book, The Vertical Farm, and you have the future of food. Stack cybernated greenhouses 40 stories high and you have 50,000 fed on an acre of ground. With the shift of food production from the heartland to the heart of the city, we’ll have eliminated unspeakable inefficiencies in the food industry.  Existing farmland could then be left alone to return to its natural state as grassland prarie and hardwood forest, bringing back  biodiversity, eliminating runoff, and revitalizing ecosystems around the world.

What Kind of Future Do You Want? Are You Building It?

Good questions to ask. The more I ask myself those question, the less I enjoy my day job. 🙂 Well, more correctly, asking that question makes me less satisfied with the status quo and itching to be a part of building the future that I want to see. It also has a lot to do with why I joined Hackerspace.

I could go on for hours espousing the virtues of cybernated vertical farming over traditional methods, but let’s get down to practical matters. We’ve got a Hackerspace, some really smart people, and an idea. So let’s get to hacking and figure out how Autoponics really works.

For more information, come to Solid State Depot any given Tuesday at 7:30PM, or contact

Autoponics project wiki page.

Printer Hacking

Reposted from Hackerspace member Ross’s blog

So the other day I was walking home from school and as I was walking by the dumpster I saw an old printer in there. I don’t know why someone was throwing it away but I didn’t care as I had more nefarious plans for it than simply spraying tree skin with black blood. For a long time I’ve been reading about electronics, about hardware hackers and I thought it was time for some hacking of my own. As someone who doesn’t have that much spare cash to throw at buying the components I want I’ve been seriously interested in what other people are throwing away and how I can use it. To that end this printer became my first victim.

Tearing off the plastic case didn’t take too much and it exposed the electronics underneath.

The control board has lots of interesting pieces that I can salvage

Finally I pulled out what I wanted

From just this old printer I pulled out two controller boards of questionable value but fun to see how the circuits workd and two prizes, a stepper motor and two DC motors. Not a bad haul since buying just those motors could have cost up to 30 bucks separately (new of course). After I pulled this stuff out and threw away the rest I realized that the next time I do this I am going to have even more fun trying to build a CNC using the actual physical hardware thought the steppers are usually too weak but it should be fun.