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Going vertical

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As many of you, I recently read the thought-provoking article Why Growing Vegetables in High-Rises Is Wrong on So Many Levels by Dr. Stan Cox of The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.

Dr. Cox writing is full interesting argumentations and while I agree on some of them, there are some issues that left me a little puzzled. Since I’m a very curious guy, I just have some questions for him (if he will ever read this article).

Stan Cox:

Unless I misunderstand the meaning of feasibility, Dr. Cox may have used the wrong word.
According to Toyoki Kozai’s paper (cited by Dr. Cox himself), only in Japan there were over 130 Plant Factories with Artificial Light (PFAL) by the end of 2012. Many more have been established all around the world. If they were not feasible, how could they work?

And Dr. Kozai conclusions:

Isn’t this in contradiction with the fact that they are “not feasible”?

But let’s not focus on single words meaning, because in the rest of the article Dr. Cox states clearly what are his concerns. The main one being the fact that Vertical Gardens/Farms are very energy-hungry, especially for lighting.

In Dr. Cox words:

Nobody disputes that VFs consume a lot of energy, but I’m curious to understand where the 1,200 kWh estimation come from, since Dr. Kozai articles mention that “PAR energy consumed to produce one kg of dry matter is 740 (= 20.0/0.027) MJ/kg or 205 (= 740/3.6) kWh.”
How was 1,200 kWh calculated?

I would also like to understand how he calculated the following figure:

Could somebody please shed some light over this 1.3 billion tons number?

Then, he writes about another issue, that VF produces will not be for every budget. Citing another study:

And the very same GIZ paper concludes also:

Sure that 3.50 €/kg to 6.00 €/kg is maybe not a popular price, but it’s not so far away from current vegetable costs. We are not talking about orders of magnitude of difference.
Why is Dr. Cox so critical over production costs? In the long term, advancing in technology will improve the yields and drive down the production costs. It always happens with new technology/products introduced to the market. Just think about smartphones, TVs, cars, and just almost anything else.

It is clear that Dr . Cox is very critical about vertical farms with artificial lighting and very categorical about their the non-feasibility.
His article left me with doubts, but he is right in pointing out some issues about VF. Indoor farming is very power-hungry. Costs are not yet on par with current growing methods. VF is not applicable in all situations and is not the solution to ALL the problems.

But just saying that VF is not feasible, stop thinking about it, forget about it, it’s a little too limiting. Dismissing the whole VF concept because there are some issues, is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, there are issues, and it’s important that we acknowledge them, and then we discuss and explore the possible solutions.

We need also to give a more comprehensive look at the problem.
If on one side we have the high energy consumption of lights (and temperature regulation), on the other hand vertical farms save on energy used for other agriculture operations. Just think about soil preparation, seeding, irrigation, fertilization, chemicals distribution, transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration… all these operations in some way have an impact on the environment.

What we need is a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) comparing VF and traditional agriculture and including the whole cycle of the plant, from cradle to table.
It is important to consider not only the energy and environmental impact, but also the other advantages of VF, such as the drastic reduction of pesticides and herbicides, healthier food, better use of water resources and increased food security.

Only with complete analyses of different situations we could assess if, when and where a VF is “feasible”.

What is your opinion? If you have links to good LCA analysis of VF compared to traditional agriculture, leave them in the comments.

By |February 26th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |0 Comments

Controller Beta Testing Program is starting

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We finally received the controllers printed circuit boards from our manufacturer and they look gorgeous (at least for geek-minded people like me). We started to test them and we immediately found an issue… one of the mounted microchip is wrong. The model number differs by just one letter, but the chip is completely different and it doesn’t work in our circuit. A further investigation with the PCB manufacturer brought to light that they received the wrong component from the chip manufacturer itself and they didn’t check well before mounting it.
So bad.

After a few minutes of despair, we quickly found a solution. PCB manufacturer was very helpful and so we sent back the boards to replace the chips. They are being reworked right now, and in few days we will have them back on our desk.

This small setback doesn’t change our plan and today I’m proud to announce that we are opening subscription to our Controller Beta Testing Program.
If you are a passionate grower, you can check all the controller details here and join the program here!

If you are not interested in joining the Beta Test team and just want to receive the end product after all testing, we offer a special pre-sale price that will last until we go into full production at the end of the beta program.
You can pre-order your controller today here.

Join the green revolution!

By |February 19th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Controller Beta Testing Program is starting

PCBs on the way

I just received news from our supplier that controller’s PCBs are on the way . We will receive them in few days and then we will program them, do the final tests, assembly the enclosures, package them and they will be ready for starting Beta Test!

In the meanwhile, we are finalizing all the documents and clearing out all the non-technical details. We will open the applications very soon, stay tuned!

By |February 4th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , , |Comments Off on PCBs on the way

Alpha is going – Beta is coming

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Just an update on the situation in these cold days of January.

The Alpha testing phase for our controller will terminate as planned at the end of January. Then, in February we are going to start the Beta testing program, widening the circle of beta testers and opening it to the public.

Let me recap what we’ve done in the past months.

We distributed our hydroponic controller to a small group of experts to see how it would work in real life situations. This was an important step because, as usual, everything always works well in your laboratory but when your users start to play with it all the strangest things start to happen… It’s mathematical.

As a development engineer you think all the possible use cases, you write thousands of test case for unit testing, you try to crash every single software module, you smash the box, you throw it into the lake, and at the end you are satisfied. Your software is a tank. It will work forever. Nobody can stop it. Nobody.
Except your Alpha tester. The dreaded Alpha tester.
How is it possible that in half an hour your Alpha tester can cripple the product that you lovely tested for months? Does he have supernatural power? Or is it just (bad) luck?

Jokes aside, this is often due to the fact that you develop and you test your product in determined and stable conditions on your bench. Then you test different setups and it still works. But as hard as you try, it’s very difficult to test all the possible environment. And guess what? Your user has for sure one of those environments that you didn’t test and that causes that extremely rare bug to come to surface.
Moreover your extremely curious user will try to do something that you didn’t tried because you, the engineer, know that it would not work. That’s the power of user.

But I’m not blaming our Alpha testers. Instead, I want to publicly thank them for having helped us on finding those nasty bugs. During the past months we passed some great moments of frustration on both sides and I want to thank them for the patience toward us and the product. With their help we could identify some major bugs and things that didn’t work as expected. Besides, they also gave many interesting advice on how to improve the controller.
So, a big thank to you, dear Alpha testers.

This is just another demonstration of how important is to test your product as soon as possible with your users. Even on a small scale.

Now, we didn’t wait the end of the Alpha stage to implement the improvements. Hot software fixing has been done on-the-fly and automatically uploaded on testers’ machine. In parallel we started working on the improvement of the user interface, that lacked a bit of usability. This will be ready for the beta.
On the hardware side we worked on a new release of the hardware that solves a bunch of other problems. We already have the new version on our table and we are testing it internally to check that everything is fine.We still have to do some major work on the documentation, the website and everything else not technical.

But the machine is working full throttle and everything will be ready for the February Beta test.

Stay tuned on this channel, you will soon get some good news.

By |January 17th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Alpha is going – Beta is coming

September news

Long time has passed since last post and you will be curious about our progresses.

Behind the long silence there thousands of line of code, dozens of burnt integrated circuits, countless sleepless nights and hard, hard work. Uh, and even some beers.
We progressed well on all the departments and the result is that last week we proudly started our official alpha testing program for the controller.

For this first stage toward the release on the market, we provided alpha prototypes to our selected partners. We distributed a small testing kit to our testing team that includes botanists, biologists, teachers, marketing people, industrial designers and shop managers. With their help we will refine the features set and hopefully iron out most of the bugs in order to prepare the next phase, public beta testing.

For the public beta testing we will open the program to any interested party. We will announce it officially during the coming months. Subscribe to the newsletter to not miss the opportunity!

 

By |September 29th, 2015|Categories: Blog|Tags: , , |Comments Off on September news

Why (again)?

DSC01045 Today, let me expand a little on the topic of the “why”, in particular on the “why should you care”.sports74.ru

Healthier foodУлитки

Less environment impact

People are able to cultivate special variety of vegetables, today not sold anymore because considered too delicate and therefore not profitable by the big industry.

By |May 4th, 2015|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |Comments Off on Why (again)?