tim savas

OpenAg™ Personal Food Computer v3.0

The Personal Food Computer v3.0 is the MIT Media Lab Open Agriculture Initiative’s latest desktop controlled environment growth chamber. We made the Personal Food Computer simpler and smarter than its ever been. The unit doesn’t require tools for assembly, can be flat packed for easy transport, and sends data to a cloud database. Other new features are abound. I led chassis prototyping and manufacturing for our release in 2018. Described here are my contributions. Check out my team's Wiki and Github pages for a fuller picture.

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Chassis Design

The OpenAg team designed the PFC v3.0 chassis based on a series of initial constraints:

The resulting chassis has press-to-fit jointery, ports for all sensors, and is made of a waterproof, food-safe plastic for ideal hydroponic production. The design was a full team effort, with contributions from our super group of plant scientists, architects, educators, mechatronics engineers, and machine learning experts.

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Design for Manufacturing

I added a set of features to the PFC v3.0 CAD model in order to create design and manufacturing efficiencies during the bot’s development, and ultimately to help our downstream users build their own:

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Chassis Production

I led OpenAg’s in-house manfuacturing of the PFC v3.0 during prototype and production phases, using the MIT Media Lab tooling to produce 60 assembled units. Locking step with OpenAg’s electromechanical team, I ensured proper PCB fit, sensor fit, and ease of assembly throughout my iterations. I ended the production run before our deadline, with extra units to spare.

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The Media Lab's Shopbot is an old horse, so I came up with efficiencies to speed up production. My pace went from an initial single unit in two days, to manufacturing 15 units per week. Here are some tricks and techniques I learned along the way.

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Deployment

"Deploy or die," as we say at Media Lab. My manufactured units weren't just for demo. They were to be delivered to K-12 classrooms in and around Boston for OpenAg's user pilot study, led by the human behavior and health specialist side of our team.

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To me, the user study embodies the Media Lab's and my own devleoping approach to tool building and research. In building a hardware tool, the PFC, to forward knowledge in plant science, we have, in turn, made a tool to advance human expression and interaction. The PFC v3.0 is not only a controlled environment growth chamber for advancing plant science, but also a platform through which its users can learn, interact, and express.

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I'm looking forward to seeing how our open-source community will deploy their own PFC v3.0's. Perhaps they'll design the "sweetest" tomato, and share it on our forum for others to grow and taste. Or they might explore climate change science, like the kind I worked on at Harvard, incubating woody plant species to see how they respond to future warming climates. Better yet, they'll build and hack their own PFC 3.0 mod, for new uses our team has yet to think up.

775 670 3447 / tsavas[@]media.mit.edu