Hackathon Connects Farmers with Designers, Makers, and Engineers

October 17, 2016 | ProgressTH Things like laser cutters, 3D printers, and electronic prototyping tools like Arduino are often in the news and attract a lot of attention. But after seeing demonstrations, art projects, and toys, many people ask themselves, "what next?"

FabCafe Bangkok's FARM HACK helps answer that question by taking the maker, designer, and engineering community out of their respective spaces and placing them together with real-world farmers and the challenges they face to see if an innovation solution can be developed.

Last weekend, four teams matching two farmers up with two designers, engineers, or makers set out to do just this.

The Game Plan 

The event was carefully planned, providing a viable template for other events like it covering not only farming, but many other aspects of life as well. It began by bringing in guest speakers to present how they are already implementing social and technological innovations to improve farming. The purpose of this was to give teams a starting point and some ideas.

At the FARM HACK event, we heard from FarmD Asia, who uses basic ideas of automation to enhance agricultural processes, and in particular, indoor mushroom cultivation. There was a professor from a local agricultural university describing advances in agricultural robotics. And finally, we heard from Heart Core Organic, a very large and successful urban agriculture network in Bangkok that links urban farmers together, organizes farmers' markets, and raises public awareness regarding natural, local food.

Then the teams formed up and began working on their projects. These teams included activists working on egg farming as a means to raise money for hill tribe schools, a team focused on rooftop farming, and a conventional farm looking for a way to automatically plant seeds in starter trays.

The Results

In just two days several prototypes were created. A few years ago, not much more than drawing and maybe static models could have been created in a two-day hackathon. Today, thanks to the personal fabrication technology available at makerspaces like FabCafe, working prototypes are so easy to make, as one team pointed out, most of the time was spent on thinking of a solution, with digital design and fabrication almost an afterthought.

By the end of the hackathon, the egg farmers had produced a device to check the grade quality of eggs, unique bio-packaging for their products, and a working idea for using RaspberryPi computers to store curriculum for students who lack Internet access.

A solar powered power bank charger that can simultaneously run an Arduino-powered moisture sensor and irrigation system. 

A laser-cut LED indicator/soil moisture post for placing in your garden. It hooks up to a solar-powered irrigation system.
Bio-packing developed by one team to help give character to organic egg farmers raising money for hill tribe schools.
A vacuum device that collects and deposits seeds evenly created in just 2 days using laser cutting and 3D printing.
Another team had a fully functional, laser-cut and 3D printed prototype that vacuumed up seeds and deposited them evenly over a seed starter tray.

For rooftop gardening, a solar-powered automatic moisture detection and irrigation system was produced using Arduino, opensource electronics, and 3D printing.

The fourth team presented an idea to use empty urban space for urban agriculture and use the attention it would attract for advertising as a means of extra income. Since no working prototype was necessary, the team used FabCafe's fabrication services to create professional architecture models instead.

Laser-cut models for planning urban agriculture.
The Future 

FARM HACK worked out so well, another event is already planned for December. It has also opened the door to medical hackathons and even SME hackathons built upon the same premise.

This was just the first event. In the future, there might be a way to take the prototypes even further and really prove the power of this technology and these emerging networks of people.

There is also the possibility that future hackathons will include opensource designs that can be put online and shared more broadly on platforms like Thingiverse or Youmagine.

Personal fabrication, electronic prototyping, and people enthusiastic about both, can make a much larger and more positive impact on society by being brought together at hackathons like FabCafe's FARM HACK. Farmers in Thailand now have their first look at this technology and what it can do for them.

Automating tedious jobs, adding value to products, or expanding opportunities for farmers not only helps make their lives better and more prosperous, but provides opportunities for those with the technical expertise to help them, find more (and more meaningful) work as well.

The next FARM HACK event at FabCafe Bangkok is being planned for December. Could a medical, SME, or other hackathon help connect other segments of the population with the maker, engineering, and designer community as well?

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