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What is a Food Computer?

The Food Computer™ is a controlled-environment agriculture technology platform that uses robotic systems to control and monitor climate, energy, and plant growth inside of a specialized growing chamber.

The name Food Computer™ was created by Caleb Harper, who directs the MIT Open Agriculture Initiative - the research arm of the OpenAg Community.

Why Food Computers?

How can you make one?

The plans are all open source, see latest release of the PFC.

How can I build or source the parts?

See the unit Bill of Materials (BOM) on the latest Food Computer release page.

Are OpenAg Food Computers open source?

Yes! The code and hardware plans are all open source.

How can I contribute to the OpenAg project?

Yay! We welcome contributions from anyone. Here are some ways you can help:

What's the difference between the different Personal Food Computers?

Please see the Personal Food Computers page for info on all versions of the OpenAg™ PFC.

The Personal Food Computer v1.0 was our first go at the problem of creating an open source tabletop growing chamber. It could run limited Climate Recipes for light and nutrients using an Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

The Personal Food Computer v2.0 was a next-gen system. It included:

  • A 3' x 3' x 2' chamber, Arduino/Raspberry Pi-based
  • Stable environmental control with robotic feedback loops
  • More sensors and more ways to control the environment
  • An new open source chassis with better insulation, slightly cheaper to build
  • Improved data collection, so nerdfarmers and scientists can make use of environmental data.

The Personal Food Computer 2.1 was the last release of the 2.x line of PFCs. It was an evolution of the PFC v2.0. This release included a new light panel and the latest release of the OpenAg software which had several updates and bug fixes.

The Personal Food Computer 3.0 (PFC_EDU) is the latest design of a Personal Food Computer from the MIT Open Agriculture Initiative. It includes:

  • A 30cm cubed (12in x 12in x 12in) growth chamber
  • Custom electronics board, using a BeagleBone Black
  • Designed with and for educators who want to use PFCs to teach STEAM skills and disciplines in formal and informal education contexts (eg. libraries, schools, museums)
  • Includes support materials to help build/source custom components for folks with lower technical skills
  • A new scalable hardware and software stack that can be used in larger scale applications like Food Servers.

The MVP 1.0 is a minimalist Personal Food Computer developed by OpenAg Community.

What's a Climate Recipe?

What is Hydroponics/Aquaponics/Aeroponics/Fogponics?

Hydroponics is an irrigation method for growing plants. We use it to recreate climates with Climate Recipes.

There are lots of kinds of hydroponics. You can drip water over plants, mist the plants, or use soil.

Can I buy a Food Computer Kit?

There are some vendors who sell kits based on the open source materials available. They're not affiliated/endorsed by the Open Agriculture Initiative at MIT, which is the academic research arm of the OpenAg community.

What can I grow?

Lots of things! Leafy green and herb are good first choices. They are fast, easy to grow and fun. We've grown lots of plants that are frequently grown hydroponically (basil, tomato, chard, kale, …) and a lot of plants that aren't usually grown hydroponically too (e.g. cotton, hazelnuts). Join the experiment and see if you can grow your favorite plant!

How long will it take to grow my food?

It depends on the plant. Many leafy greens and herbs take 2-3 weeks to grow from seed to full plant. Tweaking the Climate Recipe can also cause faster plant growth, more leaves, and different tastes.

Do I need a team to build it? Can I do it myself?

Food Computers can be built from scratch by folks who are generally comfortable machining parts, doing some basic coding (Linux, Python), and working with electrical components.

For nerdfarmers who are less technically inclined, there are helpful lists of parts manufacturers included with the new PFC 3.0, we recommend reaching out to your local Maker and FabLab communities, and the OpenAg community designed a low-fidelity version of a Food Computer that can be built for low cost and with very basic materials.

The OpenAg Community Forum is a great place to ask questions, source alternative parts or find materials, and follow along with other nerdfarmer builds.

Can I eat the food that grows in it?

We like to use food-safe bins and safe fertilizers so that the plants we grow are edible. Yum!

Of course, the Food Computer is open source, so safety is up to you! Make sure to use clean water and food-safe materials/ingredients if you plan to eat your plants.

Do I have to go to MIT to work on the Food Computer?

Nope! There are folks all over the world building Food Computers, and we welcome contributions from anyone.

If you wanted to troubleshoot…where would you go?

The forum is a great place to start if you have a question.

Debugging tools/scripts

Troubleshooting or doing development on a Food Computer? Check out our github repos for documentation, scripts and check the forum.

Can I set up a developer environment on my laptop

(i.e., not RPi but on OSX/Windows)? Yes, the Personal Food Computer 3.0 (PFC_EDU) can be partially simulated and developed on OSX and a Linux laptop (that's how we test debug).

faq.txt · Last modified: 2018/10/19 18:39 by hildrethengland