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Students Design Robotic Gardeners for Deep Space

Graduate students from the University of Colorado Boulder are designing robots to work in a deep-space habitat, tending gardens and growing food for astronaut explorers.

The team's entry in the eXploration HABitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge is called "Plants Anywhere: Plants Growing in Free Habitat Spaces." Instead of an area set aside just for vegetation, the approach calls for plants to be distributed in any available space in a deep-space habitat.

In their new system, a Remotely Operated Gardening Rover, or ROGR, travels around the habitat tending to a fleet of SmartPots, or SPOTS, which would be distributed throughout the deep-space habitat's living space.

The SPOTS facilitate plants growing in a small, custom- designed hydroponic growth chamber with computerized systems to monitor the vegetation's progress. Each has its own sensor run by an embedded computer.

"We envision dozens of SPOTS on a space habitat," said Dane Larsen who is working on a master's degree on computer science. "Telemetry in each SPOT provides data on plant condition to a computer display."

The robots and plants are networked together, and the SPOTS have the ability to monitor their fruits' or vegetables' soil humidity and issue watering requests.

As each SPOT monitors and supports its plants, it can determine when ROGR needs to perform plant maintenance tasks. ROGR, a robot on wheels, has a forklift to move SPOTS, a mechanical arm for manipulating the plants, and a fluid delivery system that can provide fresh water or water with nutrients.

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Also: Learn about a Dexterous Humanoid Robot.