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Project CERES: From Deep Space To CUBE HQ

What do app developers have in common with NASA? I bet you didn't say the plant life! We've been experimenting with plant automation to make our office life a little greener. Check out how this project measured the quality of our air and prototyped a plant-watering automation kit.

Innovation

Project CERES

Why CERES?

In Roman mythology, Ceres is the goddess of agriculture… of course.

Introducing project CERES.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to visit our wonderful office, you’ll know what we mean when we say it’s very green. Quite ironically, CUBE hates the traditional ‘cubicle’ style office spaces that so often represent call-centres in our favourite films and series (picture Fight Club for instance).

We’re more of a grass-on-the-wall type of agency, filling our space with plants, flowers and flora in all kinds of shapes and sizes. But we have to be honest and admit that very few of these (if any) are actually real plants, the sheer quantity would make them a pain to maintain, in fact, we may even need to introduce a new role just to keep them healthy and living.

This is a problem. Not only because deep down we know the plants are fake, but also because we lose the benefits real plants provide; clean air among other things.

Having living plant life in the office generates a couple of problems, or objections, as the team outlined when this idea was brought up in our innovation session.

CUBE Office

Objection #1) We'll kill real plants!

Not that we’re incapable of keeping plants alive (we might be) but maintaining real plants would take up far too much time and resources, I mean who’s going to volunteer to keep track of watering a few dozen plants twice a day?

So, to implement living plant life into our office, we needed to find a solution that would accommodate low maintenance. Automating a water system would be a great start, but we’d also need to monitor other variables to keep our plants alive, such as temperature, sunlight and moisture levels within the soil.

Objection #2) Don't plastic plants do the same thing?

As well as reducing CO2 levels and producing Oxygen, as all plants do, specific plant life also reduces the number of dangerous toxins in our air, which are produced from a number of surprisingly common items and materials.

Which brings us to the projects main inspiration; a study conducted by NASA to explore the effects different plants have in reducing these toxins in our air.

The NASA clean air study.

The study was conducted to research ways of cleaning space stations, but dangerous toxins can be found in a surprising number of places outside of the great unknown.

Affecting us differently in our homes, offices and other places you may find yourself in, that’s why NASA put together a guide for air-filtering house plants.

Nasa Clean Air Study

The CUBE clean air study.

We decided to run a few tests of our own and check on the air quality of our office, more specifically the dust and CO2 levels in the air. To put the results into perspective, any dust level less than 100 μg/m3 is ideal, and for CO2:

  • 250 – 350 ppm is good
  • 350 – 1000 ppm is okay
  • 1000 – 2000 ppm will cause drowsiness
  • 2000+ ppm will cause nausea and headaches.

The set-up was fairly simple, using an air quality sensor and dust detector, we ran the tests in three separate locations; outside, in our homes and in our office:

Cube Clean Air Study

The results?

  • Outside: 200 ppm / 58 μg/m3
  • In-House: 230 ppm / 64 μg/m3
  • In-Office: 350 ppm / 62μg/m3.

A little more experimenting...

With objection #2 out of the way (proving the need for living plants) we turned our attention to objection #1; coming up with a way to automate plant maintenance in terms of watering and monitoring conditions.

Putting together another piece of tech which contained: a water supply and pump, E-paper display, battery, Bluetooth and a micro-controller.

Contained within the closest and most appropriate sized container we had on hand… a cigar box.

Project CERES Experimentation

Although extremely basic, this experiment worked well in automating plant watering as well as monitoring the humidity, temperature and moisture in the soil, to further the chances of our plants having long and fruitful lives.

The project CERES prototype.

Project CERES offers a solution to the issues of having a living, breathing CUBE HQ. With a little more testing, development and 3D printing (a great excuse for us to use our new printer) we’ll be able to build a prototype which will automate plant maintenance; with many aspects and features including the following:

CERES Prototype Features

Now in development, the compact units offer the potential for project CERES to come to life and all of our wildest green dreams to come true.

Published on November 15, 2017, last updated on May 30, 2018

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