Article by: Rom Villarica
The ISM Robotics Club is known as the pinnacle of innovation in the school, with its students undertaking all sorts of challenging technological projects. These projects include robot building (what the club is most known for), programming, and most recently, building a solar-powered hydroponic garden.
While the name may sound daunting, the solar-powered hydroponic garden actually operates on quite simple principles. The arrangement consists of a series of pipes networked together and attached to several computing devices called Arduinos, which in turn are wired to solar panels on the fourth floor next to the Robotics Lab. During the day, the solar panels absorb the Sun’s energy and use it to charge a car battery, which supplies power to several Arduinos. These Arduinos use their internal computing power to time and manage the electrical flow to a series of pumps that draw water from a reservoir and use it to water the hydroponic garden’s plants. By doing so, the Arduinos effectively automate the tedious chore of gardening. Humans are entirely removed from the equation as the system is self-sufficient and renewable, relying solely on solar power in order to perform its designated task.
According to Mr. Dingrando, the Robotics Teacher, “The project was created in order for students to learn about solar energy systems, especially components such as the panels, solar controller, and battery. It also teaches students how to grow plants in a very urban environment without soil space and how to use robotics to control the watering systems.” He went on to add that the solar-powered hydroponic garden has been mostly run by students, and as such any future plans will be up to the students who have been working on the project. When asked to speculate on such future improvements, Mr. Dingrando stated that additions would probably be related to expanding the current system by adding more plants and Arduinos. However, he was quick to reiterate that the students working on it would likely decide the direction of the project.
The solar-powered hydroponic garden is truly a large step forward in the automation of everyday tasks, and as it is almost entirely student-run, serves to exemplify what it means to be a student innovator: to create new and fresh solutions to age-old problems.