23 Jul

Summer Break

Soil moisture data in action – literally akin to watching paint dry.

If you’ve looked at the schools’ soil moisture data lately (via the tree visualization or the raw data), you may think we’re being very liberal with the term “real time.” As schools have taken their summer breaks, most sensors have been pulled from the ground and taken offline for now. Ideally, we’d leave them in all summer when plants need watering the most; volunteer gardeners or maintenance workers may find the data useful. But we’re still developing—both on the technical side and on the human side of things. The project won’t totally cease for the rest of the summer, however; here’s a partial list of items we’ll be working on to improve and expand the greenSTEM Network in spring 2015:

  • Streamline the installation procedure at schools by preconfiguring the Raspberry Pi to hook into the school’s wifi network. Plug and play.
  • Replace the temperature sensor with a barometric pressure sensor. Why? Well, the temperature data wasn’t all that useful—it would get really hot inside the plastic cases when exposed to the sun, or if the case was covered it would read too low of a temperature. Using a pressure sensor, we can do some crude weather predictions. When pressure is low, a storm may be coming, and we can increase the rate at which soil moisture readings are taken.
  • Find a way to securely anchor the Root Kits in the garden. Did Root Kits and their housings get dug up, tossed around, used as a football? Of course they did! They’re in schoolyards. We want them to be visible and have students check them out. We just don’t want them to get damaged.
  • DO IT YOURSELF INSTRUCTION MANUAL. Many have asked about this, and I swear we are working on it. We got a lot of good photos this year, and we’ll use them to create step-by-step directions on how to make your own Root Kit.
  • Go solar. Our three-AA battery packs are extremely efficient, but a solar panel charger is better.
  • Build smarter. Drexel’s ExCITe Center recently awarded greenSTEM Seed Project funding so we can buy materials for more kits and build them at their state-of-the-art facility. We are beyond excited (no pun intended) to be working with them.

Again, this is only a partial to-do list. We’re looking to expand our network of schools next year and watch that tree grow more branches. In the coming weeks, we’re hoping to complete an installation of the sensors at the Franklin Institute, so check back in August for an update.

Finally, now is probably a good time to extend a big thank you to all who helped make this project a success this spring, especially Kevin Clough, Chris Nies, Darya Drahun, Jay Cruz and Ellen Schultz.