PROJECT SCHEDULE AND DELIVERABLES

I planned my deliverables for thesis as following:

 

The deliverables are planned in alignment with the week-by-week schedule of thesis class. Green cells are concept development, documentation, blogging, writing, & presentations. Blues represent designing, prototyping, development, & fabrication. Yellows are user tests and synthesis of those tests. Following are the three key deliverables for my project:

1. By Feb 28: Development of basic hydroponic system

Deliverable: Basic functioning hydroponic system and first batch of plants. Hydroponic system is one of the popular ways of growing plants indoor. There is plenty of documentation, guidelines, and materials available to achieve this. By February 28th, I plan to have a basic functioning hydroponic system with my first batch of  plants growing in it. This does not involve electronics, scripting or arduino coding; but demands fabrication, prototyping, domain research, and my first ever experimentation with indoor farming. This will allow me to user test and harvest the yield during spring break.

2. By quick and dirty show: Implement feedback mechanism with technology and Interactivity

Deliverable: technology and interactivity implemented into the hydroponic system. Using inputs from user test 01, I’ll determine what level of interactivity is suitable for the project. In the basic system (deliverable 1) user is responsible to manually test and control the supply of air, nutrients, and water. For deliverable 2, my goal is to automate this feedback mechanism using sensors and microcontrollers. Hydroponics are sensitive to external light and environment, therefore it will be helpful to have user interact through sensor readings, rather than opening the system boundaries, observing roots and leaves, or manually switching air/ nutrients supply.

In parallel, I’ll grow second batch of seedlings and transfer those to the interactive system. For quick and dirty show I plan to be ready with plants growing inside this system. I’ll be conducting user test 02 during quick and dirty show.

3. By Apr 11: From user test 02 to Final Working Prototype

Deliverable: Apply changes from user test 02, finish development and detailing. I’ll gather analysis from user test 02 (quick and dirty show) and synthesize a plan of action that’s achievable in next sprint (March 28 to April 11). By April 14th, Along with project summary milestone, I’ll be ready with those changes. This will allow me to have another round, user test 03, before final presentations. For the final presentations and thesis week I plan to be ready with this interactive indoor farm prototype and a yield of fresh greens.

Random thought: I’m running Brooklyn half marathon on 20th May, right after graduation. I love how my 14 weeks training schedule aligns with the thesis deliverables and overall project plan!

By nature, this project has tremendous future scope and possibilities. For example I was initially thinking of redesigns for life on Mars and networked farming, or many people I spoke with had futuristic (and rather fancy) ideas such as growing plants in perfect Martian environment, controlling system remotely with radio waves etc., but to design and develop those bigger ideas I’ll first have to achieve above three deliverables. I intend to leave those achievable-but-not-before-May2017 tweaks for later, beyond the scope of 14 weeks of my thesis project.

Darwin, Plants, & Processed Food

Processed food is outcome of applying chemical and physical means to raw food ingredients in order to improve shelf life and ease of preparation. I came across a range of examples while researching the merits and demerits of raw versus processed food. Some products, like cereals and low-fat milk, are a routine diet for most of the people around us. And then there are some products like soylent, that aim at changing the very definition of food. As I spoke with a few experts and read more about raw vs processed food, I learned that there are pros and cons to both of these:

Merits of processed food like Soylent

  1. Engineered nutritions cater to exactly what human body needs from daily diet, in terms of nutrient contents.
  2. Feasible and faster in fast-paced lifestyle where cooking and eating meals is time consuming.

Demerits of consuming processed food

  1. Contains many antibacterial compounds (e.g., lactoferrin), which is likely one of the main reasons some people experience gastrointestinal upset from drinking processed shakes.
  2. Before entering the markets, these products are mostly tested by their ability to provide nutritional values, not by their potential to cause an illness. We will only know how safe it is to eat these when we observe an illness as a result of consuming these products.
  3. Millions of years of evolution has designed our metabolism in adjusting to and benefitting from microbes. Studies point out that products like soylent may be harmful to microbes in human digestion system, leading to low immunity, making us susceptible to diseases.

There’s a mismatch in what we eat today and how our body is designed over years of evolutionary process. Some argue that even milk is a mismatch, as cows have been around with us only for just tens of thousands of years, which is a very small duration compared to evolution history of humans who were once hunter-gatherers and farmers. Whole foods contain a natural balance of nutrients, a balance that is lost when the food is broken down and one or more of the smaller constituents are removed. There are many aspects of darwinian theory such as competition (biology) and natural selection that make whole foods better than processed ones. I am more keen on how future of food looks when we use technology to grow and harvest whole foods, rather than creating evolutionarily novel food products.

Cornell Box

I made a quick and dirty cardboard prototype of my ‘personal farm’, and this seemingly simple exercise brought up a lot of interaction concerns that I hadn’t thought through before, such as:

  1. How is a user going to get the leaves/ plants out of the box? Is it a door with hinge? Will there be a notification when plants are ready & it’s time to harvest?
  2. What level of granularity does the interaction have? “Set temperature to 25C” vs “Grow spinach”
  3. Details of interface: is it a physical control with knobs and sliders and buttons? Or is it a computer-controlled unit with an on-screen software interface?

The box:

MINDMAP: COMPUTERIZED MICRO-FARMS

Before making a Cornell Box cardboard prototype, I chalked out a mindmap of all the elements this project might have. Like any computerized system built around solving a specific problem, it has a system boundary or scope or limits (and therefore an outside environment that’s not a part of this system), user(s) that operate and benefit from this system, and finally an interface that enables user(s) to operate the system. Environment/ Boundary I could think of several possibilities:

  • A box that contains one or a few plants along with elements essential for growth of plants such as soil, moisture, fertilizers etc.
  • Whole room as the environment, where user inputs will directly affect conditions of an entire room.
  • Entire city as the environment.
  • Portable, tiny objects that can be mounted on plants, or immersed into soil, to let user operate on only a single plant.

Users

  • One vs Many: How many people can control a given system? How many people directly benefit from the system? This leads to following point:
  • Primary vs Secondary user: There may be significant distinction between who grows the food and who benefits from it.
  • What are the needs of the user/ consumer/ producer of system?

Interface

  • With traditional design thinking approach, I thought of a few different interface ideas such as tangible elements (buttons, knobs, sliders) vs concealed ones (software controlled, voice controlled etc.)
  • Within this project and most of my previous ones, there’s an interesting difference of feedback mechanism. Most of my projects had immediate feedback or end results popping right after the user takes certain action. In this one, user’s actions may have immediate feedback acknowledging those inputs, but end result (growth of a plant in user-defined conditions) will take at least a few weeks to be visible.

FUTURE OF FOOD AND FARMING

Farming is one of the most ancient occupations that helped humans advance in many ways. Primarily, as an entrepreneurial species, we were able to grow our own food and distinguish ourselves from other animals. Farming brought societies together to form villages, towns and eventually bigger cities. As opposed to hunting, where humans had to wander to have food, farming shaped civilizations by creating deep bonds between groups of people and specific pieces of land; therefore leading to colonies.

Colony (n) : Biology: A community of animals or plants of one kind living close together or forming a physically connected structure.

The word colony has its origin in late middle English, derived from Latin colonia (settlement, farm) from colonus (settler, farmer) from colere (cultivate).

(Thought: I’m glad to have my thesis idea narrowed down from colonization of Mars to future of farming – there’s certainly a very strong link between the two!)

Serious obstacles in traditional farming

In near future, as predicted by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food production must increase by 70% by 2050. There are some serious obstacles such as-

  • Investment in primary agriculture should become a top priority and needs to increase by some 60 percent since agriculture not only produces food but also generates income and supports rural livelihoods. This will fundamentally require investments in rural infrastructure (roads, ports, power, storage and irrigation systems); investments in institutions, research and extension services, land titles and rights, risk management, veterinary and food safety control systems; and non-agricultural investment including food safety nets and cash transfers to the most needy.
  • Climate change is making it more and more difficult to manage resources for farming: fresh water resources are unevenly distributed, declining, and water scarcity is reaching alarming levels.
  • Generations, especially those growing up in urban settings, are turning away from farming. Rural generations are moving to cities and that’s an unprecedented crisis that makes traditional farming a not-so-feasible business model. For instance, farmers’ suicides in India is currently a nationwide emergency.

Thoughts on approaches for the future

In many parts of the world people are experimenting with a number of urban farming ideas such as MIT’s open agriculture group. How does the future look like? Will there be personal indoor micro-farms? Will it become part of lifestyle to have one’s own indoor plants in their apartments that suffice food needs of a family? Will there be technological aspects to it, such as IoT and opensource tools supporting micro-farming? I did a quick sketch based on these ideas:

Case A is traditional farming involving journey of yields from producers (farmers) to vendors to consumers. Case B is a personal farming scenario where a person (or maybe a family) is harvesting their own food, therefore being independent in meeting basic food needs. Case C is a speculative and much interesting scenario where these personal farms start forming a network via which there’s a shared micro-climate.

PORTFOLIO & THESIS QUESTION

Slides from the first presentation

Thesis question as of Jan 24th:

“Assuming that we will be redesigning systems for a better life on Mars, how would these redesigned institutions look like, such as time zones, schools, farms, banks, and governments? Can we take some of these redesigns and apply them directly to our lives on earth today?”

I talked to Katherine and Rebecca to further develop my project question, as it was too broad. I could see a couple of directions that are based on the same starting point, but would spawn into different areas:

  1. An art installation that informs of the current research, development and proposed systems for future life on Mars. My initial research suggests that most of the scientific articles, news, and design proposals about life on Mars are anchored into wishful thinking, or technological biases that fuel writer’s agenda, or sci-fi-ish descriptions that intentionally stretch certain ideas and tend to be too colorful to be real. The art installation, either in the form of a public-space work or semi-private artwork like an interactive mural or a personal wearable object of desire, would parse real-time data from Mars and bring in some form of visual delight to keep the viewers engaged into the topic, and tempt them to read more about it.
  2. A practical redesign of one of the artificial systems (banks, governments, schools, farms). For a long time I’ve been thinking about food and how it brings cultural shifts, and I thought going ahead with future of food & farming could be a strong direction. I came across the idea of Food Computers- an open source initiative promoted by MIT Media Labs- and thought of building one as a part of my thesis exploration.

TRANSCRIPTION: 1 MINUTE THESIS QUESTION, DECEMBER 2016

I’ll be working on my thesis in Spring 2017. At ITP we had 1 minute thesis question show in December 2016 where all thesis candidates presented their ideas (questions that would later develop into thesis ideas) in a minute. Here’s what I presented in my 1 minute:

“There’s one in a billion chance that we are not in a computer simulation. Which means it is highly unlikely, that right now, you are sitting here and really listening to me. Hi, my name is Dhruv Damle, and I would really love it if humans go to and settle on Mars. Because why not?! That’s the question I have, along with many more, like what will happen to the Coordinated Universal Time system? Is it morally & ethically wrong in the first place, to just find a new home, rather than fixing critical problems we have like global warming? and assuming that humanity will be redesigning systems for a better life on Mars, how would those redesigned institutions look like, such as time zones, schools, farms, banks, and governments? and finally, can we take some of those ‘redesigns’ and apply them directly to our lives on earth today? The hashtags are time, space, speculation, simulation, & redesign.”

Radio channels simulation: Unity scripting with C#

We learned C# scripting basics for Unity and a quick exercise in class was to develop a radio scene that plays new audio clip on keypress. I created the scene with an Audio Source gameobject, and assigned a script called radioChannelSwitch to it. The gameobject looks like this:

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-6-35-01-pm

Audio Source gameobject has an array of audio clips called My clips. I defined the size and contents of this array with Unity GUI by dragging and dropping those 5 audio files from project assets to Element 0-4 fields.

AudioClip on top refers to file STE-015, which is 0th element of My clips array. When triggered, Audio Source plays the file that’s currently pointed by AudioClip. So a keypress (Space bar in this case) needs to switch AudioClip to point to next file (or Element) from My clips array.

The script radioChannelSwitch.cs looks like this:

using UnityEngine;
using System.Collections;

public class radioChannelSwitch : MonoBehaviour {

    public AudioClip [] myClips;
    private int currentClip;

    // Use this for initialization
    void Start () {
        GetComponent<AudioSource> ().clip = myClips [0];
         // initialize Audio Clip to 0th clip from the array

}
    
    // Update is called once per frame
    void Update () {
    
        if (Input.GetKeyDown(KeyCode.Space))
        {
            Debug.Log (Updated+ currentClip);
            GetComponent<AudioSource> ().clip myClips[currentClip];
            GetComponent<AudioSource> ().Play ();
            currentClip++;
            if (currentClip == myClips.Length)
                currentClip = 0;
        }
    }
}