“Especially in the pharmaceutical or supplemental industry, you need an extremely strict batch control that leaves no room for variation,” says Dr Alexis Moschopoulos, Managing Director at Grobotic Systems.
The Grobotic Systems team shows off an early prototype Grobotic chamber. From left to right: Gareth Coleman (Software Developer), Richard Banks (Chief Technology Officer), Dr Alexis Moschopoulos (Managing Director), and Andrew Merson (Mechanical Engineer). Credit: UKRI.
Growing a new variety
Indoor farming has numerous growing parameters to take into account. Particularly when growing a new variety, all variables should be perfected in order to reach an optimum yield. In an indoor space, experimenting with these environmental parameters might, however, seem tricky. But what about trying out this environment in a smaller setting, such as an experimental growth chamber?
Alexis is fully aware of the challenges that vertical famers face. The environmental control needs to be as precise as possible, as the effect of different light spectra or nutrients may have a significant impact on crop yield and quality. With this challenge in mind, Grobotic Systems brings a new solution to the market: a compact and highly instrumented growth chamber. “It’s an experimental chamber rather than a farming chamber. Therefore, you won’t use it to grow vegetables, but you can use it to identify which growing parameters are best suited to your crops,” Alexis says.
The Grobotic Systems team outside their workshop in Sheffield, England. From left to right: Dr Alexis Moschopoulos, Richard Banks, Andrew Merson, and Gareth Coleman. Credit: UKRI.
On your desk or under your bench
According to Alexis, the chamber fits on your desk or under your bench. It can apply any environmental condition preferred, including light spectra and temperature. Internet connection via the growth chambers allows users to monitor plants on their cellphones via integrated cameras and other sensors inside the chamber.
Another advantage of the chambers’ size is that they can be stacked in an array, adjusting variables in each chamber. In this way a multi-variable experiment can help users identify which environment works most optimally for their intended crop. “When using a large cultivation room, it is hard to split the room into different temperatures. A smaller cultivation space, such as our growth chambers, can be placed anywhere, just like a personal computer. Moving away from the large expensive capital equipment and machinery to small and stackable experimental chambers saves a lot of space and money.”
Alexis first came up with the concept of the growth chamber during his PhD and postdoctoral work in plant genetics. Several prototypes are currently being used at research institutes and start-up companies. Grobotic Systems is working on a more advanced growth chamber that will be launched in the summer of 2021: “We are integrating feedback from the deployed prototypes into the design of the advanced chamber, and we will start marketing the advanced chamber later this year.”
Richard Banks designs a control system circuit board for an early prototype Grobotic chamber. Credit: UKRI.
Not only new farmers can benefit from running small-scale experiments in a growth chamber, but also large-scale, established farms, since the chamber allows them to experiment with new varieties, creating the optimal yield. This will in turn enable them to upscale their production. “Not all farmers like to invest their time in carrying out experiments, as some trust that the vertical farming technologies they buy will always work for them. However, in the end it could save them a lot of money. No one needs to use productive farm space to do the experiments, just a few manageable boxes can suffice.”
Gareth Coleman works on the chamber imaging and control systems. Credit: UKRI.
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