Remotely Operated Gardening Rover - Student's Space Agricultural Robot

University of Colorado students demonstrated their X-Hab (eXploration HABitat ) project at Kennedy's Space Station Processing Facility on June 23. They are developing a Distributed Remotely Operated Plant Production System, or DROPPS. It is a concept for producing edible plants during long-term missions to destinations such as Mars.

(Dane Larsen checks the forklift on ROGR)

The University of Colorado team's entry in the eXploration HABitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge is called "Plants Anywhere: Plants Growing in Free Habitat Spaces." Instead of an area set aside just for vegetation, the approach calls for plants to be distributed in any available space in a deep-space habitat.

The X-Hab challenge is a university-level project designed to engage and retain students in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The competition is intended to link student design projects with senior- and graduate-level curricula that emphasize hands-on design, research, development, and manufacture of functional prototype subsystems that could be used in extraterrestrial habitats and during deep-space exploration missions.

In their new system, a Remotely Operated Gardening Rover, or ROGR, travels around the habitat tending to a fleet of SmartPots, or SPOTS, which would be distributed throughout the deep-space habitat's living space.

The SPOTS facilitate plants growing in a small, custom- designed hydroponic growth chamber with computerized systems to monitor the vegetation's progress. Each has its own sensor run by an embedded computer.

"We envision dozens of SPOTS on a space habitat," said Dane Larsen who is working on a master's degree on computer science. "Telemetry in each SPOT provides data on plant condition to a computer display."

The robots and plants are networked together, and the SPOTS have the ability to monitor their fruit's or vegetables' soil humidity and issue watering requests.

When I first saw this, I thought about the servok used in the Conservatory from Dune:

Something rustled in the greenery. She tensed, then glimpsed a simple clock-set servok with pipe and hose arms.

Robot gardeners are autonomous sometimes in science fiction, like the robot crab from Neuromancer:

A gardener, a thing like a large metal crab, was tending the bamboo...

The robot crab moved toward them, picking its way over the waves of gravel. Its bronze carapace might have been a thousand years old. When it was within a meter of her boots, it fired a burst of light, then froze for an instant, analyzing data obtained...

I think Philip K. Dick also mentioned a robot gardener in his 1955 short story War Veteran.

Fans of the 1972 movie Silent Running will also remember that Bruce Dern took tended his garden with the help of robots.

"It calls back a time when there were flowers all over the Earth... and there were valleys. And there were plains of tall green grass that you could lie down in - you could go to sleep in. And there were blue skies, and there was fresh air... and there were things growing all over the place, not just in some domed enclosures blasted some millions of miles out in to space."

(Gardening robots from Silent Running)

Via Students Developing Robotic Gardening Technology; thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip on this story.

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