Introducing Total Controlled Environment Agriculture Technology - Dandelion
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Introducing Total Controlled Environment Agriculture Technology

A close up of a growing cube with its led lights containing plants
Helping us Face Future Food Production Challenges

Earth’s population is increasing fast – estimated to reach 10bn people by 2050. Current farming practices are not going to be able to provide enough food for the future demand.

One of the ways we can make sure there is enough food for everyone is to use new technologies.

The outside environment is becoming more unpredictable due to climate change and the frequency of extreme weather events is increasing. In some parts of the world, growing outside is becoming impossible. If we can totally control the environment that food is grown in, we can have better food security.

Vertical farming is the popular term used for TCEA (Total Controlled Environment Agriculture - controlling the elements of the environment that plants are grown in), and refers to the practice of producing food on vertical surfaces such as walls or in vertical stacks of horizontal layers.

Some of the benefits of vertical farming are saving space, reducing pesticides/herbicides, and consistently ensuring optimal growing conditions. Watch Dr Hannah Rudman from Dandelion’s Science and Growing Team explain:

As well as being home to Intelligent Growth Solutions’ tower, Scotland’s Future Farming Hub also hosts Liberty Produce. Liberty is the company that Dandelion has worked with to create the GrowCubes for installations sited around Scotland, and to go into the nation’s schools for a big science experiment.

Here’s Hannah again with a short introduction to Liberty Produce’s original TCEA Liberator product, which is ideal for places where crops consistently fail:

TCEA for Dandelion

The installation and school GrowCubes that Liberty Produce has created for Dandelion are much smaller than the shipping container-sized Liberator, or Intelligent Growth Solutions’ tower!

The installation GrowCubes are 900mm2 in size, and are a hybrid of art and science. Additional to full spectrum white LEDs, each growing shelf of the installation cube has red, green and blue (RGB) LED lighting that enables the GrowCube to be internally lit in a full spectrum of colours. The colour change of each cube is controlled via a DMX module that allows the cubes to be controlled by any standard theatrical lighting desk or controller.

The installation GrowCubes are small enough to travel and will tour in a journey from Heisgeir to Scotland’s mainland, and are appearing throughout Dandelion’s national programme. The cubes are augmented with sound systems to form light and sound installations by commissioned artists.

At two locations during the festival, all 60 installation GrowCubes will be congregated at the large events in Glasgow and Inverness to form the Pavilion of Perpetual Light.

Liberty has also designed the GrowCubes for schools.

Growing plants using TCEA GrowCubes in the Schools Growing Initiative

Plants need water, light, a suitable temperature, air and time to grow. These variables are replicated and controlled in the school GrowCubes to create optimal, accelerated growing conditions.

113 schools across Scotland have a GrowCube. Each cube is a mini accelerated growing environment and is 750mm2 in size with three growing shelves. Above each shelf is an array of full spectrum white LED lights. The cubes are sent out to schools flat packed, and they have to be self-assembled on arrival.

The cubes are additionally augmented with an array of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors combined into a node that automatically monitors different variables of the growing environment on each shelf, such as temperature and humidity.

The sensor nodes are connected to a small micro-processor which acts as the digital data collection device/computer, sending data securely via the internet to the central Dandelion Schools’ database.

Pupils will take manual measurements of plant growth too, and input these data to the Dandelion database, using a mobile friendly web application (app), designed to encourage engagement with experiments. Acting as a national cohort of citizen scientists, pupils’ measurements and findings will augment the data collected automatically from the IoT nodes. The citizen scientists across Scotland’s schools will undertake experiments with the GrowCubes set by the Dandelion Science and Growing Team. Schools can also use the app and IoT nodes with their GrowCube to create and share their own experiments – perhaps playing the plants music will help them grow – which genre will be best?

500 schools and over 100,000 young people will be involved in growing, experimenting and sharing results of plant experiments in both technical and traditional environments. The nation can see how the student citizen scientists and their plants are doing via an online dashboard – did rap or classical music best help them grow? How many young people liked the taste of lemon balm? This is Scotland's largest ever citizen science growing project in schools. SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) designed the Schools' Growing Initiative to align with educational learning outcomes whilst exciting students about growing, plants and food, and it is delivered in partnership with Keep Scotland Beautiful. SRUC has designed the experiments that will take place with Dandelion GrowCubes in schools, and Edinburgh Napier University’s Computational Sustainability Lab has supported the initiative by designing the IoT aspects and by co-developing the app with SRUC.

Author: Dr Hannah Rudman