A potentially historic collaborative project between CTAHR and the College of Engineering hit a triumphant milestone when the Box Farm project won 1st place in the Francis Rhodes Montgomery Design Competition. Now, not even the sky’s the limit for the project—its innovative team envisions the Box Farm in space!
Kent Kobayashi (TPSS) advised the team of Mechanical Engineering and Biology students in creating a fully automated, robotically controlled hydroponic growing system that could be used to provide fresh produce for astronauts on lunar and Mars missions. When the team realized that astronauts in simulated space environments were spending more than two and a half hours a day tending plants, they reasoned that an automated system like the Box Farm could free up that time for research and other pursuits.
The design competition the team won was established to further the field of mechanical engineering by recognizing and rewarding innovative design efforts, practicality of design, and ability to present designs in a clear and understandable manner. The team not only won a cash prize, but they’re now testing their system at the NASA-funded Inflatable Lunar-Mars Habitat at the University of North Dakota. And they’ve already harvested their first (reportedly delicious!) batches of lettuce and bok choy. Read more in the UH News story here and see the robotic arm in action here!
Kent, with his research into self-contained hydroponic systems suitable for space travel, is unquestionably the right person to advise the team. He was a mentor to the Girl Scouts of Hawaii International Space Station Project Teams for two years on their autonomous hydroponic system on the International Space Station, and he mentored Mechanical Engineering student Aleca Borsuk for her Hawaii Space Grant Consortium Fellowship project of growing edible amaranth with LED lights.