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The SproutsIO smart microgarden nurtures your inner botanist

Engadget Engadget 21/09/2016 Kris Naudus

© Provided by Engadget

I'm not good at remembering to water my one houseplant. I know I'm not alone -- the phrase "black thumb" exists for a reason. And if some of us can't even manage something as basic as adding a little H2O regularly, asking those same people to worry about humidity or soil pH for our flora is right out. Unfortunately, that means a lot of us don't get to enjoy the benefits of growing our own herbs or vegetables at home. The SproutsIO connected planter, now on Kickstarter, aims to solve that by not just reminding you to water your plant, but creating an entire support system aimed at your individual wants and needs about what to grow.

SproutsIO is the brainchild of Jenny Broutin Farah, an architect who's worked on large-scale gardening projects with the New York City Parks Department. She wanted to make fresh produce something that anyone, from restaurant chefs to home cooks, could keep around their kitchen without worrying about it going bad quickly or not being clean enough.

The first step in that process is the SproutsIO pot itself, a modular system designed with convenience in mind. The bulk of the product is the basin, which is where you put the water, and it contains the monitoring systems as well. There's no soil: The Sprouts IO is a hybrid hydroculture, using hydroponics and aeroponics to care for the plants. Hydroponics involves keeping roots in a nutrient-rich water solution, while aeroponics mists them with a similar mixture.

These methods enable easier management (no need to change the soil, for one) and lighter weight; you can remove the top layer of the SproutsIO, containing the plant, and pop the lower basin into a sink or dishwasher for cleaning. The modular nature of the pot also means it's easy to adjust the height of the planter, leaving more room for the roots or letting you switch between hydroponic and aeroponic modes.

The SproutsIO even comes with its own light source, a flexible LED lamp that can be removed for better access to your project and consumes less power than a standard incandescent bulb. In fact, the whole setup consumes less energy than a laptop. The lighting scheme can be customized to each project, from a harsh white to softer shades of red and blue. There's also a camera so you can peep at your plant from afar in the SproutsIOGrow app.

SproutsIOGrow lets you adjust things like the lighting and misting, but the real power of the program is how it learns from experience. Horticulture is more than just sticking a seed in some dirt and watering it regularly; small changes in temperature, humidity, light levels and soil acidity can render very different variations of the same crop. SproutsIOGrow contains information not just about the ideal conditions for your plant to grow in, but about which conditions can render greener spinach or juicier tomatoes.

Farah hopes the app's database will grow over time, not just through machine learning but also via contributions from SproutsIO users, who will come up with their own "recipes" to share. It's a lot like taking advice from a forum for amateur botanists, except you're all using the same tools already.

The level of convenience is what makes SproutsIO different from other IoT solutions like; it makes not just caring for the plants easier, but purchasing them as well. The subscription service will sell you sIO seed refills, which contain everything you need to get started: the seeds, the growing media and the appropriate nutrients. Once you've harvested your crop and are ready to move on to your next project, each sIO is compostable.

The current list of subscription choices includes kale, chile peppers and fairy-tale eggplant. But you aren't limited to the plant disks; ultimately you can grow anything you want, even root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. (Mark Watney would approve.)

SproutsIO hits Kickstarter today at an early-bird price of $559 (regular price $699). Or you could always just spend $2,999 for a pack of five and assemble your own counter garden. The app supports multiple units, so why not put together a dream team of some lettuce, tomatoes and arugula for some super-fresh salads?


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