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We are building a community-driven laboratory committed to improving our food system through new agricultural technology.
77 backers pledged $10,386 to help bring this project to life.

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$10,386

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What is a prototype?

A prototype is a preliminary model of something. Projects that offer physical products need to show backers documentation of a working prototype. This gallery features photos, videos, and other visual documentation that will give backers a sense of what’s been accomplished so far and what’s left to do. Though the development process can vary for each project, these are the stages we typically see:

Proof of Concept

Explorations that test ideas and functionality.

Functional Prototype

Demonstrates the functionality of the final product, but looks different.

Appearance Prototype

Looks like the final product, but is not functional.

Design Prototype

Appearance and function match the final product, but is made with different manufacturing methods.

Production Prototype

Appearance, function, and manufacturing methods match the final product.

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Prototype Gallery

These photos and videos provide a detailed look at this project’s development.

Support for Digital Farm Lab

"The Open Agriculture community is a growing, global network of #nerdfarmers working to build a better food system. The Personal Food Computer™ project brings us together to build the tools needed to make this happen. We are excited to see Urban AgTech's Digital Farm Lab come online and look forward to their support from the San Francisco Bay Area." 

 -Peter Webb, Open Agriculture Foundation Community Liason, TechShop St. Louis Entrepreneur in Residence

“Let’s work on projects that are going to help the planet and feed the planet and do those things. I’d like to see the bright minds around the planet working on that and not on just entertainment stuff.” 

-John Matthesen, CEO Rodgers Ranch Urban Farm

“The Digital Farm Lab could help us to be gathering all of this information about conditions and nutrients and production and outputs and things like that and giving us real world data that are coming out of the food computers…”

-Mark Hintzke, Founder/Executive Director Growing Up Farms

"I believe that Digital Farm Lab is one of the first things that I've seen that we all can band together and get behind that can actually start to work towards solutions for the future of food." 

 -Chelsea Turner, CEO Urban Hydro Greens

We are in the final days of our campaign! Given the goals and needs of the Digital Farm Lab we have put together two alternative stretch goals for us to reach for! Depending on how much more we raise, the additional funds will go to one of these two stretch goals.

Stretch Goal Alternative #1 - A Second Food Computer for A/B Climate Recipe Experiments: More Food Computers mean more opportunities to conduct more climate recipe experiments (e.g., A/B testing). Each additional Food Computer would cost us about $4,000. Let's set our sights on raising a stretch goal for one additional Food Computer at $13,500!

Stretch Goal Alternative #2 - Double our Runway at Manylabs: After searching around for a space, we are excited to say we decided to house the Digital Farm Lab at Manylabs in San Francisco!Manylabs is an awesome place filled with people and projects focusing on "Science for Good", which includes work on open science/data/innovation, environmental technology, and climate change. There's unlikely any better of a fit! 

That being said, the rent is more than we originally budgeted. Help us raise a stretch goal of $12,000 to double the amount of time we can afford to stay at Manylabs. This will allow us to keep the Digital Farm Lab in a publicly accessible space for longer and extend the runway we have to plan the next phase of the lab!

Urban AgTech is a 400+ person Meetup community located in San Francisco learning how cutting-edge agriculture technologies can improve our food system.
Urban AgTech is a 400+ person Meetup community located in San Francisco learning how cutting-edge agriculture technologies can improve our food system.

In the San Francisco Bay Area our community, Urban AgTech, has brought together farmers and gardeners, hackers and makers, scientists and engineers, entrepreneurs and investors, and educators and students from architecture, agriculture, and technology through meetups, farm tours, news digests, and podcasts to learn how cutting-edge agricultural technologies can solve our toughest and most interesting food challenges. Here are the three challenges that we are focused on:    

Our globalized food system needs to become more sustainable and secure. Produce travels on average over 1,600 miles from farm to market, creating a 6% increase in retail prices and contributing 6% of our national carbon dioxide output, while wasting 15% of the yield to spoilage between the farm and the market. Recent droughts have revealed the fragility of the farming ecosystem.

Technology and agriculture do not share enough in common to encourage innovation. Technologists and farmers speak different languages. What’s more, knowledge about food production is typically restricted to a small percentage of the population. Together, these high barriers make innovation very difficult.

Our youth need new inspiration for growing food. The median age of farmers is 56 years old and it's rising. Today’s youth need to be ready and enthusiastic to inherit the responsibility of growing food.

Through our community, we found that localizing production, democratizing growing technologies, and educating youth are some of the most promising effective ways to address these challenges.  

So how do we get there? Let’s find out with the Digital Farm Lab.

The Digital Farm Lab is a place for our community to collaborate on new agricultural technology and showcase this technology to the public.

The Digital Farm Lab has three objectives:

  • Science: With these new agricultural technologies, we aim to support plant research efforts working to better understand how these technologies can improve our food system. 
  • Development: As we build these tools, we will document the process, skills, and systems to accelerate innovation so that others can more easily get involved.
  • Education: We will share our work through creating guides, organizing tours, and hosting meetups to inspire the next generation of farmers.

We have come to Kickstarter to raise money for the first piece of equipment for our laboratory and for space to keep it publicly-accessible. 

This equipment will be the cornerstone of our lab, an open-source agriculture platform being developed at MIT’s Open Agriculture Initiative (OpenAg™), called the Personal Food Computer™.

“In the future, even broccoli will have an IP address” -Wired Magazine October 2015
“In the future, even broccoli will have an IP address” -Wired Magazine October 2015

PERSONAL FOOD COMPUTER™ noun. an open-source, controlled-environment-agriculture technology platform. Personal Food Computers™ (“PFCs”) use robotic systems to automatically control and monitor climate, energy, and plant growth inside of a specialized growing chamber. The results of the entire process are uploaded to a database in the cloud allowing for a network of data sharing computers.

The PFC fits on a desktop and is ideal for rapid experimentation and climate education, but the concept is built to be scaled up to greenhouse- and warehouse-sized Food Computers™ for production-level growing.

The Personal Food Computer™ v2.0 (Credit: Open Agriculture Initiative, MIT Media Lab)
The Personal Food Computer™ v2.0 (Credit: Open Agriculture Initiative, MIT Media Lab)

The PFC from MIT OpenAg™ is the most promising advanced agricultural technology our community has found to power our Digital Farm Lab. We have been following along and contributing to its development since the alpha prototype. Now, the PFC is in beta and we are ready to build it.       

One of the coolest things about the PFC is the “climate recipe”. Like software programs, climate recipes instruct Food Computers to create specific grow environments for plants. In a laboratory setting, climate inputs can be experimentally adjusted across the growing cycle and the results can then be studied. We can therefore replicate any natural environment and rapidly learn what “recipe” produces the best yield, nutrition, and taste, for example.  

Imagine our goal is to produce the biggest, juiciest, tastiest tomato.

We can adjust the nutrient inputs over time, as well as the daily cycle of light, and the color of that light, received. While the plant grows we can monitor its conditions to record for comparisons. 

If at first our outcomes are not precisely what we want, we can try again with new settings.

Once a successful climate recipe is found, the findings could be extended to real-world production environments that utilize sensors, such as greenhouses, vertical farms, or even outdoor farms. Since the information is open-source, others around the world can build upon the findings with their own PFCs for further experimentation! 

The PFC, is the perfect tool for us to accomplish our three objectives of Development, Science, and Education. It allows us to work on the technology powering our future food system, share what we learn with others, and contribute to plant science research.

“I wanted this to be open. I wanted it to never be owned by anyone because it’s the science of life.”

-Caleb Harper, Director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at MIT’s Media Lab and the Food Computer™ project.

Currently our food system is far from open. Most agricultural technology is built behind proprietary licenses. In the past, this has led to growers being forced unwillingly to comply with Big Ag companies who hold the intellectual property. In promising industries like urban agriculture, innovation is being stifled without a common platform. And as consumers, we are fighting for the right to know where our food comes from.

Open source can change this. We are starting to see this in more technology-driven industries. Tesla’s patents, Apple’s Swift, Facebook’s Torchnet, Google’s Tensorflow, the Human Genome Project -- All of these projects incorporate open source because they know that to accomplish their goals, communities of people within and outside of the organization are needed.

And that’s what we need to do in food.

The creators of the PFC are creating an open-source ecosystem of food technologies that enables and promotes transparency, networked experimentation, and local production. We share their beliefs, which is why we chose the PFC as the cornerstone of the Digital Farm Lab.

A Community. We have built a place in San Francisco for farmers, hackers, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and educators to come together and develop the common language needed to begin collaborating on our food systems problems.

Check us out on our site!

A Team. The Homebrew Food Computer Club grew out of this community. Our core project team of four passionate growers consists of: 

  • David – Software Engineer  
  • Adrian – Architectural Engineer  
  • Will – Data Scientist  
  • Richard – Mechanical Engineer
The core Homebrew Food Computer Club team at Techshop San Francisco, an open-access, DIY workshop and fabrication studio
The core Homebrew Food Computer Club team at Techshop San Francisco, an open-access, DIY workshop and fabrication studio

A Prototype. Last year we built the PFC v1.0 and grew some food in it.

Lettuce grown in the PFC v1.0
Lettuce grown in the PFC v1.0

A Software Brain for v2.0. This year, we put together the software component of the next generation, PFC v2.0, known as the OpenAg™ Brain.

With your help we can build the rest of the PFC v2.0 and get the Digital Farm Lab online!

In order to get the Digital Farm Lab started, at the bare minimum, all we need is $9,500. Here’s what would be included:

Lab Equipment: The total cost for materials, shipping, and taxes for the Personal Food Computer™ v2.0’s is $4,000.

Tools: Several of the parts will need to be manufactured. To assist in this process we are planning to work out of the TechShop in San Francisco; an open-access, DIY workshop and fabrication studio fully equipped with the tools needed to make this build succeed. We need one month to build the Food Computer™. Additionally, we included a 3 month safety factor for one member for any unforeseen additional fabrication. This would cost us $1,500.

Space: We want to store the PFC v2.0 in a publicly-accessible space so that we can work on the Food Computer and have a place to share our work. We have researched a few potential community spaces. For one year of access, this can cost us another $1,500.

Content Creation: Help us share our project with the larger community outside of San Francisco. More support will enable us to acquire the creative software needed to create content including PFC documentation, infographics, and data visualizations. We would also be able to improve and maintain our website so that more people could get involved. This would cost us $1,500.

Fees: Part of your support will be going to paying the fees associated with running this campaign, including processing fees and reward fulfillment. This would cost $1,000.

With more support we can better serve the community by doing the following:

More Food Computers™: Multiple PFC’s would allow us to conduct more climate recipe experiments (e.g., A/B Testing) and contribute to developing this technology. The more Food Computers™ there are, the stronger the community becomes. Each additional Food Computer™ would cost us about $4,000.

Once the PFC v2.0 is built and ready to share, here is how we plan to tackle the challenges we introduced at the beginning:

Science!

To create a more sustainable and secure food system, we will work with the growers and plant scientists in our community to understand how these advanced agriculture technologies can improve our food system. By experimenting with this technology at the production scale, for example, we can learn how to help farmers make use of more automated and precise methods.

Develop!

To accelerate agricultural innovation, we will document the process, skills, and systems we learn as we build PFC v2.0 and other advanced agriculture technologies at the Digital Farm Lab. We will continue to share our progress with the public so that it can be freely iterated and advanced.

Educate!

To inspire the next generation of farmers, we will team up with educators to create growing guides, organize tours, and host meetups to help people understand the promise of controlled-environment agriculture. This project is especially applicable to local schools, who can use PFCs as a hands on device for their biology, chemistry, and computer science curricula. Imagine schools across the nation competing to see which can grow the sweetest tomato, submitting their recipes to the cloud, and receiving the winning recipe to be grown themselves and served in the cafeteria!

We put together the following rewards in return for your support. In the spirit of open source and community, these rewards have been designed to spread awareness and knowledge about the Personal Food Computer™ project in hopes of encouraging more people to get involved.

Donate $25 to receive a Plant Hacker guide to teach you the basics about hydroponics. Adopt a plant from one of our climate recipe experiments for $100. At $5,000, we'll build a Food Computer™ for you or, for example, a school of your choosing! More details about the other rewards can be found in the sidebar towards the top of the page.

Note: This section gets a little dense. Feel free to skip to the next section if you don’t want to see what’s under the hood.

The PFC uses open-source hardware technologies including the Raspberry Pi computer and the Arduino microcontroller to create an automated framework in which the internal growing environment is precisely controlled and follows a “climate recipe”.

Through open-sourced software development, the PFC firmware installed on the embedded hardware monitors the sensors and controls the electronics accordingly to maintain a specific internal environment dictated by the climate recipe. A system-level web user interface enables the digital farmer to monitor, control, and dictate climate recipes and collect/share data.

    Computing Hardware
    • Raspberry Pi 3 - Embedded hardware running the Robotic Operating System, OpenAg™ Brain, and the CloudDB database
    • Arduino Mega 2560 - Hardware terminal to interface sensors and actuators
    Available Sensors
    • Air Temperature/Humidity
    • Water Temperature
    • Liquid Level
    • CO2
    • Light Intensity and Color
    • Dissolved Oxygen
    • pH
    • Electrical Conductivity
Electronics
  • Wide Angle HD Camera
  • Peristaltic Pumps
  • OpenAg™ Signal Board
  • 16 Channel Relay Board
  • 24VDC, 320W Power Supply
  • 12VDC, 450W Power Supply
  • 2.4GPM Recirculation Pump
  • 201 CFM Axial Fan
  • Chiller with EX120 Single Fan Radiator
  • 12V 300W PTC Heater
    Lighting
    • GrowMax Red LED, 24 Modules  
    • GrowMax Blue LED, 8 Modules  
    • TerraMax White LED, 10 Modules
Software
  • Robot Operating System (ROS) - Framework to connect, and control all the parts of the system  
  • CouchDB - Database with HTTP access  
  • Python - Software modules such as Arduino handling, image capturing, control loops, lib/cli tools, data filtering and data persistence, code generation  
  • C++ - Firmware modules such as drivers for sensors and actuators
  • JavaScript - Dashboards and data visualization

Here is a diagram from the PFC wiki that shows an overview of the architecture: 

OpenAg™ Brain Architecture
OpenAg™ Brain Architecture

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“The future of food is about networking the next one billion farmers and empowering them with a platform to ask and answer the question, ‘What if’?”

- Caleb Harper speaking at TEDGlobal>Geneva

Thank you to H. Scott Roth and Matt Campana for their help with the Kickstarter video.

Thank you to David Gomez Urquiza, Will Coddington, Richard Ho, Sybille Roth, Chelsea Turner, Mark Hintzke, and John Matthesen for being a part of the Kickstarter video. 

Thank you to Anthony Krumeich, Alice Liang, Chelsea Turner, Shayan Saghari, and Chris McGuire for volunteering to help with Urban AgTech. 

Thank you to Eco-Systm, IFTTT, Growing Up Farms, and Rodgers Ranch and Urban Farm for hosting Urban AgTech.

Thank you to the Urban AgTech community for giving me (Adrian L. Lu) the confidence to keep moving forward.

Risks and challenges

Currently, the Food Computer™ project is an academic research project at MIT. There is a lot of promise in the technologies that are involved, however, the project is still in the prototyping and beta testing phases. Advancement of the Food Computer™ project depends, in part, on the continuing participation and support from the Open Agriculture community.

Generally, though there is a lot of excitement for controlled-environment agriculture, we understand that there are still many challenges ahead of The Digital Farm Lab.

We are convinced that there is real promise in this industry. The Digital Farm Lab project aims to understand what exactly this promise is. As such, we expect that our laboratory approach will not yield all successful results. But, with each new effort, these challenges will have us failing forward.

We're in this for the long run. Our community means everything to us, and making sure that expectations are met and exceeded is our highest priority. Therefore, we will be forthright and transparent through the entire building and testing process.

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Questions about this project? Check out the FAQ

Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    Supporter

    As a sign of appreciation, we’ll add your name to our “Supporters” page on Urban AgTech's website and keep you up to date on our progress through regular updates.

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    Voter

    Once the Food Computer™ is up and running, we'll ask you to help us vote on what to grow, what climate recipe to follow, and other community decisions. You will also get the Supporter reward.

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    Plant Hacker

    Receive a special pack of seeds and a plant hacker's guide for how to grow them hydroponically! You will also get the Supporter and Voter rewards.

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    Digital Farm Lab Swag

    Proudly show your support of open source development, Urban AgTech, and the Digital Farm Lab with a screen printed “Digital Farm Lab” T-Shirt. You will also get the Supporter, Voter, and Plant Hacker rewards.

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Plant Parent

    Adopt one of the plants we grow! We'll name your plant after a name of your choosing and send you updates about the plant's growth progress and the associated climate recipe data. You will also get the Supporter, Voter, Plant Hacker, and T-Shirt Wearer rewards.

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    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    Knowledge Seeker - Group Tour

    Are you a teacher, journalist, or fan interested in being one of the first to get an in-depth look at the Food Computer™? We'll take you on a group tour of the Personal Food Computer™ v2.0! In-person or virtual tour available. You will also get the Supporter, Voter, Plant Hacker, Digital Farm Lab Swag, and Plant Parent rewards.

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    Knowledge Seeker - Private Tour

    Are you a teacher, journalist, or fan interested in being one of the first to get an in-depth look at the Food Computer™? We'll take you or your group on a private tour of the Personal Food Computer™ v2.0! In-person or virtual tour available. You will also get the Supporter, Voter, Plant Hacker, Digital Farm Lab Swag, and Plant Parent rewards.

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    Time Sharer

    Are you interested in running a grow experiment but don't have access to your own Food Computer™? Do you want to tinker with the Food Computer™? Not to worry! At this reward level, you will get a spot with one of the few existing Food Computers™ in the world to run a grow experiment and tinker with the climate recipe directly for one full grow cycle! You will also get the Supporter, Voter, Plant Hacker, Digital Farm Lab Swag, Plant Parent, and Knowledge Seeker - Private Tour rewards.

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    Pledge $2,000 or more About $2,000

    Sponsor

    Be an official sponsor of our project! We’ll add you as an official sponsor to Urban AgTech's website and our Meetup page. We'll also laser etch your name onto a plaque that will reside with our Food Computer™ for visitors to see. You will also get the Supporter, Voter, Supporter, Plant Hacker, Digital Farm Lab Swag, Plant Parent, Knowledge Seeker - Private Tour, and Time Sharer rewards.

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    Owner

    Want a Food Computer™ v2.0 but don't have the time or know-how to build one? Once we get ours up and running, we'll build a Food Computer™ v2.0 for you or for you to give away, for example, to a school. You will also get the Supporter, Voter, Plant Hacker, Digital Farm Lab Swag, Plant Parent rewards, Knowledge Seeker - Private Tour, and Time Sharer rewards.

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Funding period

- (33 days)