Saturday, October 8, 2011

Week 3 Part 1

So during class we were reassigned our groups, as per usual, but this time we were given over an hour to work in class. My group consisted of Steven, Kevin, Dylan, Alex, and Ning, with Dylan and I being the returners from the previous week. The project was the plant growth system, and the new task was to make the system track the sun.

To say the least, when I walked out the door on Tuesday, I was almost devoid of hope for our group. That single hour of being with my new group left me quite certain we were screwed.

What made it so bad? Well, for starters, all we did was sit next to a blank whiteboard for most of the time. The class mantra is “hands on think tank” and it seemed as if there was no thinking going on at all. Dylan seemed dead tired, Ning seemed flattened of all enthusiasm, Steven was quietly trying to find a starting point, Kevin didn’t appear available for consultation, Alex was raving mad, and I didn’t know where to start. Despite the critique that the project was very much like an expensive latticework, most of my group members seemed perfectly happy with the idea of keeping the form of our piece. Couple our formal issue with the fact that there is a farm across the street from the powerhouse, and we really didn’t have a high value problem either. We needed to find something that made us unique, particularly if we were going to continue addressing the food desert concept. Then, in an effort to spark us to action, the Max and John slowly trickled by. Max prompted us to start using numbers and to do a rough calculation of how much rainfall the area gets and whether or not it’s even feasible to grow plants indoors with rainwater alone. He was right: we DID need to know that in order to establish our idea of plant growth as credible. So after a bit of hem hawing around, the calculation was done, establishing that, yes, we would be able to grow plants with rainwater if the average was anything to go by.

And so ended the productivity of the hour. One single number:

Rain/Year Calc.

Approx. 1,000 sq ft of roofline

25 in/year in Detroit

1/14 in/day

Approx 17 gal/day

One single number, the idea to grow weed, and the brief consideration of making dew catchers. That’s it. The rest of the time consisted of my heart sinking as Alex debated with John and debased the course itself, Steven’s offering of an idea got shot down, and no one else knew what to say. We were zombies.

That night, determined to come up with an overall view with where our project needed to improve or where it could go, I sat down and compiled this assembly of information.

Issues to Consider:

· Drainage of water

· Meeting the needs of individual types of plants (If we no longer use solenoid valves for individual plants in order to reduce cost, we have a function problem. Also, do we need to create an actual database with types of plants that COULD actually survive/thrive in the environment we create? If yes, how many plants would we have in the database? 20? 50?)

· Watering System: direct flow, drip system, or mist system?

· Connection to solar tracking panel?

· Vertical wall format (who is our consumer/customer? What is the age range of users and is this compatible with their needs? In other words, is it mostly elderly people who take the time to garden, and if yes, can they reach high plants? If they can’t reach, elderly should NOT be climbing ladders. Yet if we aim for a young generation, will they use the product?)

· Entrepreneurship (Could our project become the basis of a business? Could a business venture make our product have an investment with returns? How long would it take for a return on investment?)

· Create a niche (What does our product do that the farm next door can’t do?)

· Intermixing of solar panel (the rectangular form doesn’t jive with our current diamond form)

· Insulation (does Plexiglas actually keep the plants warm enough during winter? Does the bubble shape have to change to accommodate keeping in heat?

· Pest prevention (Ants, fruit flies, and other critters sneak indoor. How do we prevent them from getting to food that is not harvested in time?)

· Cistern and popes that collect water (Will they freeze during winter? Are there panels on the roof that melt snow?)

· Location (What is the relationship of our piece from inside the house to the outside?)

· Light (How do lights tie in, and can we use them more effectively?)a

· Wiring (How can we deal with wiring more effectively?)

· Above all: how can we simplify this thing? It’s far too complex!

I also came up with some ideas about possible solutions that crossed my mind.


· Drainage – The folding pocket becomes more cone shaped with a 45 degree angle for gravity to do its job and a slit/hole at the back base to allow water to exit?

· Location – Put it in the kitchen under cabinets and above counter space. It’s usually a neglected/unused space in that room that also has potential for improvement. It would also have a horizontal orientation to allow an older age bracket easier access, with no need for ladders.

· Grow Tropical/Warm Weather Plants – They need more sunlight & heat that could provide a practical use for our solar panel integration. It also would create a market niche that the nearby farm could not meet. Also, it offers the benefits of being organic food, unusual to the area, locally grown, and year round.

· Solar Panels – We could perhaps place them above or below the proposed horizontal plant wall.

· Pest Prevention – Put glass (folding?) doors in front of plants to keep in heat and keep out pests.

The system as a whole would act very much like a refrigerator for plant growth, aka: a green house in small form.

However, I did not come up with an idea for insulation or electric work, and those issues remain within my proposal.

Needless to say, I didn’t have high hopes for our group. The next night, when we met, nothing could have prepared me for what happened. Things just clicked, one right after the other. I wrote out all of my brainstorm material on white boards, and then when everyone got there, let them read the board and then start up a discussion. They agreed with essentially everything, I pitched the tropical plant idea; it got swooped up with enthusiasm. We talked form, and the issues we saw arising. We eliminated the idea of growing plants via red LED’s and talked about directing light via reflection. Then Alex and Ning jointly came up with the helix/spiral design. Things clicked again. Everyone was as enthusiastic as could be hoped, we had a form, we had niche, and we had direction.

Thank God.

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