If you weren’t able to join us at the Farm-a-Thon hack-lab, here’s a recap of what you missed!
On the 20th of February some 40 enthusiastic participants gathered at Openlab for our Farm-a-Thon, a one day hybrid hack-a-thon and design thinking workshop. Not your typical hack-a-thon, and not your typical workshop, but a combo of the best from both!
The focus was on innovation using hi-tech and low-tech tools to overcome challenges about urban farming and food production in Stockholm. The Farm-a-Thon was carried out within the project Openfarm which aims at inspiring people to reflect upon how their food is produced and get involved in creating a more resilient urban food system.
Inspirational presentations and expert resources
We kicked off the day with a couple of inspirational presentations from guest speakers sharing their knowledge and research within their field of expertise. Sepehr Mousavi, Sustainability Strategist at Plantagon, painted a picture of the current state of global urban food systems. He also shared Plantagon’s approach to these issues using “agritechture” (agriculture, technology, architecture) and talked about Plantagons work with an industrial sized integrated urban greenhouse in Linköping.
Susanna Hultin, horticulturist (plant expert) at Sweco explained the different constraints different plants might have, such as light, space, humidity, etc. In order to design good solutions with the plants in mind, Susanna encouraged the participants to imagine themselves being plants, and what they might need and appreciate based on what plant they are and where they come from.
Tina Zhu, PhD-student in Human-Machine Interaction with specialization in Mobile Interaction Design at KTH, shared some examples of human-plant interactions. She introduced us to the “Pulsu(m) Plantae Project” and “The Selfie Plant”, fun attempts to get people to connect on a personal level with their plants using modern technology. She also presented some of her research on smart planting, working with design and technology to create innovative growing environments indoors.
Here is a taste of what we saw:
Pulsu(m) Plantae video: https://vimeo.com/6223273
Selfie Plant video: https://vimeo.com/129462054
Mark Smith, professor at the department of electronic systems at KTH, and Victoria Siloo from Trädgårdsteknik AB shared some inspiration on how technology can be used in farming, such as automatic watering and measuring environmental conditions for the plant to help your better care for it.
Sanya Falkenstrand, founder of Jordfabriken and Anima Mundi also shared her expertise with us. Sanya, who is an expert in small-scale community agriculture and transition movements, joined the Farm-a-Thon for a few hours to help and inspire the participants during their brainstorming and prototyping sessions later in the day.
The teams get to work
With help of Openlabs Design Thinking coaches, Maria (Udén) Stockhaus and Sophie Uesson, the participants worked in interdisciplinary teams, using design thinking tools to create new and innovative solutions for a common challenge. The participants were divided into 6 teams based on their diverse backgrounds and different levels of experience with tech and agriculture in order to have evenly mixed groups where different competences could work together. Each team also had an assistant coach to help support them through the design thinking process.
The Challenge: ”How can we make urban farming and growing your own vegetables more accessible to the public through technology?”
Understanding the user (Empathize and Define)
When working in a design thinking process, the first step is to grasp who you are designing or solving for – Who is the user? Inspired by the expert’s presentations the Farm-a-Thon teams each worked out a user, or persona, using one of three constraints this user might have for growing food, and defined how the challenge could be adressed from a user perspective.
The Constraints: lack of space, lack of time or lack of knowledge
Ideating and prototyping
A majority of the day was dedicated to developing ideas and prototypes to solve the challenge at hand, based on the needs and constraints of each group’s user/persona. The teams had a number of different plants and lots of technical equipment including sensors, watering devices, circuit boards and arduinos for programming at their disposal, as well as other sorts of prototyping materials. The experts were also available all day to share advice and inspiration.
As the day was coming to an end, each team held a brief presentation or demo of their solution/concept for the rest of the group, including a jury consisting of the resident experts and representatives from Openlab. The jury evaluated the concepts based on how well they connected to the needs of the user and the challenge, and whether the solution was technically feasible.
Though the teams came up with different and all interesting ideas, we could see a number of common threads within many of the solutions.
Many of the teams chose to design for a young user. Several of the teams seemed to also have taken inspiration from Tina Zhu’s presentation about smart planting and human-plant interaction, since similar elements could be seen in a couple of the solutions. Also a social aspect was included in several of the solutions, tending to our need to share our experiences and emotions with others, and creating a sense of community whether it is in person or through social media. Many of the teams chose to create a solution based on the constraint Lack of knowledge, and hence included a learning experience in their concepts, usually together with a social aspect.
All of these aspects could be seen in the winning concept, which might be why the jury liked it the most.
User: Åsa, 12 years old
Constraint: Lack of knowledge
Concept: THE SMART KIT PLANT, the only plant that will ask you to go skateboarding together!
Summary: A smart potted plant that is connected to an app. Åsa’s plant can analyze information about itself through the different sensors in the smart-pot and connect it with online information about different plants. The plant then interacts with her, not only telling her it’s thirsty or that it’s berries are ripe, but creating a personal relationship with the plant itself, and connecting her with other proud owners of a smart kit plant.
The goal of this concept is to share knowledge and inspire users like Åsa to care for their plants through continuous interaction – a fun and social way to learn how to grow plants!
Stay tuned for a summary and presentation/demo videos of all the ideas and concepts developed at the Farm-a-Thon, in a later blogpost!
Disclaimer: In the excitement of the winners being announced, the jury unfortunately got the group numbers a bit mixed up, creating some confusion among the teams. A heartfelt congratulations to the winning team and their smart kit plant, and our deepest apologies for the confusion.