Fab Academy 18

Project Development

1 - INTRO:

This has been the most time I have ever invested in a project In my life ever, and it has worth it!

Before I decided to start FabAcademy, I did a Master In Design for Emergent Futures where my thesis is related to “How to use technology to make smallholder farmers more resilient to clima change?” (Sept19/ Jul20), from where one of the first ideas I has was this box where you could replicate the climate of somewhere else inside to experiment with plants.

From that moment, I did my first prototype of POWAR… and I named it! “The Plant Observatory of Weather Adaptability for resilience”. The first prototype was only made out of eight sticks forming something similar to a box, covered in cellophane paper with a plant inside and a disconnected Arduino above it… it was just an speculative idea at the moment…(it’s a shame I never took a picture of it).

After I finished my master, where I saw the FabAcademy content but didn’t had to document it that deep, I decided to finish the FabAcademy certificate so I started, after lockdown and by myself mostly, to do all the missing assignments and to prototype what would be the first version of POWAR. Which, in my mind, was going to have integrated CV that could learn and tell which plant grows best with which conditions, connected to a global database with information gathered from smallholder farmers around the world… and well… I still have that idea in mind for a near future…
Once again, it all started with a box and a concept… but this time I integrated some RGB lights a water pump and some 3D printed parts… not even a screen, and not even a finished electronics board… but people was getting excited each time I told them the story of POWAR, “The Climate Simulator.

2 - Iterating the design in Portugal:

While I was still building the FabAcademy version, I won a grant in an educative contest called FabSchools, which was related to the development of STEAM education objects, so I started designing some workshops to build POWAR in Portugal with André Rocha at FabLab Benfica and his product design students at the Polytechnic of Lisbon. But this time, we where doing a version that uses breadboards and ESP32 /ESP8266 instead, so I had to modify all the documentation and have different codes and schematics according to the development board used, since the ESP8266 only has one Analog pin, so I needed to also add a Multiplexor to it.

This was a interesting part of the project, because I was also learning about POWAR through teaching to someone else how it actually works, but to make it more challenging, the students in Lisbon where in lockdown, so we had to do this remotely in groups of five people where one was in charge of the electronics, other about the building, other about the coding, another about the server and other about the interface.

So I did one schematic for each part of the process, and a single code for each one so the kids could understand how the machine was built, and they could test each sensor individually and then star to put everything together. Some of the students had to do the exercise in TinkerCad to at least understand how an Arduino board works.

All of this codes, schematics, instruction and documentation is part of my POWAR personal Git I created for scaling the project. For this I even created an specific BOM and created some kits so that the students had all the materials to fabricate it, but sadly, the students never ended up building a new version of POWAR, but instead, took the knowledge they got from the workshops we did and created something new, which I also find interesting as a part of the project.


3 - POWAR domain: 

I bought the domain "www.powarstem.com" where you can find the project description, and some of the classes we designed to teach about electronics and coding to this product design students through POWAR. And I added some Sub-Domains to easily access the server, the NodeRed configuration, and the Git Repository.






Having all of this different links helped me a lot to share the project with different interested stakeholders and partners in a more organized way.


4 - POWAR Mini
(PR Version):

Because the project started to have some interested investors from an editorial company in Cataluña, Spain, who want to use it as a STEAM education methodology to teach the kids about climate change in a more practical way. So for the editorial company to start promoting the project, I also created a mini version of POWAR, made out in laser cut wood, that would only have an Arduino inside, an LCD screen, a moisture sensor, and an RGB led ring.

The intention of this mini version was to send it to different people like politicians, educators, and other important people that could invest or promote the project to implement it in the Spanish educational system, as part of a bigger methodology they are designing.

One of the nicest things about this, was that I was getting a little invest to iterate with the technology I was using, so I could start testing different water pumps, development boards, box sizes and even codes.

The pictures above, where you can see the 5 POWAR MINI boxes, reminded me of a comment Neil did when I presented the project to him "I imagine something similar to the Prusa 3D printing farm with this... a room full of boxes experimenting with different weather conditions"... well, even dough this ones don'd experiment with different weathers, it's a first step to what Neil said.

5 - Utility Model:

When I started the conversations with the editorial company, they asked me to register the model so that we where able to commercialize it without any trouble, so I started to research and learn about the different ways of registry that exist to see which one of them fits more the idea I have.

For inventions, beside the Creative Commons we have already spoke about, there are more restrictive (or permissive) registration models like the Patent and the Utility Model which give you the property of an invention, and therefore, the right to commercialize it.

The Patent, is only for creations that are totally original in every sense, something that does not exists or that is totally new... like "the first pen" that ever existed, but in my case, this is a mix of different technologies used in a different way... like if we would talk about a pen again, but one that changes colors for example... it still is a pen, but with a different use.

So we went for the utility model, for which you have to write a document called the memory in which you describe how the invention works and a bit of the technology it uses for doing so. You also add some drawing that specify how the design could be (without being restrictive), and where does each part of the technology goes and how it works.

Then you send it to the patent and inventions office in your country, and they check that there is nothing similar registered in their database. After you passed that stage, they publish it in a public document for two months so that everyone can see it, and claim if they feel they have a similar invention... and that is the part of the process we are into right now.

6 - Electronic Board:

During this whole process, I designed so many versions of POWAR I can not even imagine...

I designed around four versions that work with the FabLab Barcelona Barduino 2.2... bigger ones, smaller ones, other that had the sensors shield separately, ones that where soldered from behind because of the pin headers and one sided PCBs...

I designed breadboard versions that work on ESP32 and ESP8266, having schematics for every single sensor or actuator, so as codes...

I designed versions that work with ESP32 and soldered proto-boards, with nicer wirings and connectors...

Until I finally arrived to a first version that I'm producing right now in JLC-PCB in china (that should be arriving today or tomorrow) and with components ordered at LCSC.

I find producing in China pretty cheap, in case you don't need things in a hurry, because in that case you pay a lot for the shipping expenses. In my case, for example, the boards costed like 10€, but the shipping of them was around 40€ because I needed them sooner. By the way, the boards arrived while I was writing this, so I'll upload some pictures of them.


7 - Reflections
and Next Steps:

So long, it has been an amazing process the one I've lived during this year and a half that I've have had this idea in mind. It has been a long path in which I have meet a lot of different people who in one way or other have been involved with the project. People that goes from experts in agriculture, robotics engineers, teachers, parents, students, makers, politicians, book editors, etc...

The learning process has also been amazing, when I look back and think in all that I've learned, how much do I know the project in every sense, from the technical up to the legal parts of it, and also the learnings that go beyond FabAcademy like how to develop an educational methodology, or the experiments in teaching technology remotely with the Portugal experiment have made me grow, not only in knowledge, but also as a person.

Right now I'm in the stage where I already associated with an expert in robotics to produce the first order of 10 POWAR devices for the editorial company to do a presell of it, which we are going to fabricate during the rest of this month (July 2021). From this new stage of the process, I'm learning more about how to order stuff, how to properly do a BOM and cost it, and now I need to move forward into making the business plan for the project, looking for some investors or kickstart it so that I can produce it in a bigger quantity, and also to invest in the development of a more robust digital interface.

At the moment, my next milestone is to create or adapt my platform from my Node Red running in a Digital Ocean server, into a platform that could have many different users controlling each POWAR device separately, and collet the data from all of them into a dataset. For this I have been looking at the Blynk App, which offers the service for private products platforms with a premium user payment.

Last week, we officially launched POWAR to the world in a Rural Innovation Fair in Rupit (a town in Catalunya), which is part of the Mobile World Congress that is celebrated every year in Barcelona. I also got a grant from the Deputation of Barcelona, with which I'm continuing the research around my project, looking forward to improve the technology and design, so that it can be produced in massively. 


This website was made with Mobirise