Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions with a water solvent instead of soil. In comparison to conventional soil methods, plants can be grown with 10x less water and, with nutrients being delivered directly to roots, hydroponics has the potential to yield much more nutritious produce.
Hydrobase is a platform I developed with a team of 5 UC Berkeley graduate students that enables urban farmers and growers to control and analyze their hydroponics setup. Our system was designed to help users optimize their plants for health and environmental sustainability. My role was that of the UX designer, UX researcher, and the designer/builder of the structural components.
The prototype we built to grow an avocado and jalapeño plant consisted of both physical and digital components. It has sensors so users know when light is needed and when the nutrient solution contents need to be adjusted. There are also lights and pumps connected to several different solutions which are controlled by a central “brain” that can automatically activate depending on the data being collected.
The associated software allows users to import from an existing library of plant profiles that include a recipe for ideal light patterns and plant feeding plans. Some vegetables want four hours of dim light per day, others want nine hours of bright light. Some fruits require a nutrient solution that is very acidic, others do not. The library makes it easier for people who are new to urban agriculture to hit the ground running once they have a physical setup. The analytics component in our platform allows urban farmers to compare the efficacy of different plant profiles so that the recipes can be improved upon and shared with the broader user community.