Sure, you can employ the help of a Plant Nanny or recruit a greenthumbed friend to tend to your houseplants, veggies, and herbs while you’re away, but how well do they really know your greens? How intimate are they with your plants’ innermost thoughts and desires precise watering needs, light requirements, and pH levels? Come to think of it, how familiar are you with the vital signs of that struggling tomato plant?
 
Amit Kumar and Michael Doherty, the developers of a clever, cloud-based “personal gardening assistant” for hydroponic growing operations called Bitponics, are banking on the fact that we don't know our plants nearly as well as we think we do. Described as a “shortcut for a green thumb” and geared towards tech-savvy urbanites (or anyone, really) prone to accidentally committing horticulture-related homicide, the aim of Bitponics is to take the guesswork out of indoor growing and to render the somewhat mystifying art of hydroponic gardening an easy, breezy and murder-free affair.
 
The plug-and-play Bitponics system is composed of two mains components: a base station that, via several simple sensors placed throughout the garden, reads and analyzes humidity, pH, air temperature, water and brightness levels. An electrical conductivity (EC) sensor that measures the concentration of nutrients in the growing solution — keep in mind that hydroponics is a soil-less gardening system and that plants are fed through nutrient-packed liquids — will also be available for an additional charge. When the system is set up, the device generates a "personalized growing plan" based on initial readings and other info that you manually provide, i.e. what kind of plants you're growing and details about your hydroponic set-up.
 
The data collected from the sensors is then sent from the base station to the second component of Bitponics, the user’s online Bitponics account complete with dashboard. From the dashboard, users can tweak settings based on "friendly" alerts/recommendations generated by the readings.
For example, the system has the ability to tell the user exactly how much light is needed for each plant per day and what balance of nutrients to use. Are those tomatoes getting too much water? Are the nutrient levels off with the lettuce? Bitponics will alert you to this and help set you on the right path. Also, the base station comes equipped with two power outlets allowing users to remotely adjust various aspects of the garden including water pumps and lights, making it ideal for gardeners who travel frequently. Of course, Bitponics can’t do it all when you're away as you’ll need someone to actually refill the reservoirs when water levels are running low. It's a shame that Bitponics can't bring the mail in, too.
 
The whole shebang revolves around an online Bitponics community where users can interact with other hydroponic gardeners and share their own trials and tribulations while picking up tips and tidbits. Bitponics isn’t just about easy automation — it’s also about sharing and collaborating. What’s more, the Bitponics hardware will be open-source so that tech tinkerers can pitch in and help develop it if so inclined.
 
Kumar, who in addition to co-founding the Brooklyn-based start-up serves as its head software engineer, explains the crucial role that community plays in Bitponics:
 
We created this project for everyone that loves plants. For people just starting their first garden and for old pros with experiences to share. In addition to helping people manage their own garden, we want to create that sense of community that gardens have always offered. A place for people to learn from each other, but with the knowledge structured in a smart way so it's super-easy for people to model their garden on proven successes. As the community grows, everyone's knowledge grows. And we all help each other make our world a little more green.
 
The Bitponics team has taken to Kickstarter in an effort to crowdsource funds in order to manufacture the system now that the prototype device and the software has been developed. The goal is to raise $20,000 by June 11. Kumar, Doherty and Co. appear to be almost halfway there. The team anticipates that if the fundraising goal is met, the device will retailer for a little under $400. However, those who contribute $250 or more now will receive the device plus a slew of other perks including free membership to the Bitponics website and early access to the beta software. Those who donate less than $250 won't receive the device when released, but will be in line for various perks such as an invite to a hydroponics workshop and a beginner-friendly hydroponic growing system (the device itself doesn’t come with one).  
 
 
In addition to getting to kicking off the fundraising campaign, Kumar and Doherty are in the process of developing partnerships with Brooklyn-based urban farming orgs such as Boswyck Farms and the Dekalb Market Farm and are exploring the myraid educational possibilities of the platform. Explains Doherty:  
 
Growing hydroponically is more than just about providing free food to your home — it is also about the educational experience that allows us to reconnect with what we eat, empowering us to eat healthy and protect our environment. It is also a great way for students in the classroom to use hydroponics as an applied method of understanding sciences such as biology and chemistry. They can see in real time the changes in the plants environment and how this correlates to plant growth.
 
For more, check out the Bitponics homepage and, of course, the Kickstarter campaign (the clock is ticking, folks). Hydroponic gardeners: what do you think of Bitponics? Is this something you'd invest in? Non-hydroponic gardeners: are you intrigued?
 

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