2012-05-24

Co.Exist

Bitponics: An Internet-Connected Hydroponic Home Garden

For those of us without green thumbs, growing plants at home can be hard. But this new system allows you to hook up simple sensors to your hydroponic plants and receive helpful reminders when it’s time to care for them.

Hydroponic gardening has taken off in a big way in the last few years, as more and more people have come to appreciate the idea of growing stuff more or less anywhere. But, according to Amit Kumar, of Bitponics, many growers could get more from their systems if they automated certain aspects, and had more insight into conditions like lighting, pH, and humidity.

For those not familiar with hydroponics, it is way of growing plants without soil, using a nutrient-rich liquid. Plants grown this way tend to grow faster than with conventional growing, increasing yields, and there is less need for water, as what isn’t used first time is recycled. Hydroponic gardening also helps cut food miles, as produce can be grown closer to where it’s needed, rather than flown in from thousands of miles away.

The clever idea behind Bitponics, a new company now appealing for funds on Kickstarter, is to link people’s home hydroponic set-ups with the Internet. Bitponics is developing a sensor device that measures a garden’s vital signs, sending information back to a central computer. This then remotely controls water pumps and lights, and Bitponics sends alerts to members suggesting "reservoir" refills and other maintenance. The advice is based on pre-agreed "growing plans" that Bitponics generates based on what plants people want to grow.

"A lot of people like plants and wish they could grow plants. But not a lot of people know about it," says co-founder Kumar. "We want you to grow no matter what your skill-set is."

"It can be pretty hard to know what you should be doing. There is a lot of knowledge out there, but it’s not structured. We are trying to create and share data that is really easy and applicable."

Over time, Kumar says, the Bitponics network should become more knowledgeable, as it compiles information from hundreds of different gardens. Kumar also hopes to take the idea to schools, and to facilitate group sharing of garden data via the web site.

"We see it as being a powerful way for schools to run experiments. They could start with a growing plan, and then tweak one variable, like lighting, and students could see what difference it makes. That’s a great tool for teaching science, and for learning about plant growth, period," Kumar says.

Bitponics is partnered with other urban gardening pioneers like the open hardware project Windowfarms, which raised more than $250,000 on Kickstarter, and Brooklyn-based Boswyck Farms. Should it get the necessary funding for development, Kumar expects the device to be ready by December, and to cost about $250, with the web site run as a free service.

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