MIT student designs gardening robots that could grow produce for astronauts on Mars

A NASA fellow and aerospace engineering student at the University of Colorado has invented a robot and artificial intelligence system that’s may open new avenues for space exploration and habitation. Heather Hava won the $15,000 “Eat it!” Lemelson-MIT undergraduate prize for her robotic gardeners, and now she hopes to raise $150,000 to fund further development of the product through her company Autoponics.

One of Hava’s inventions is a smart pot called SPOT: a soilless, hydroponic pod capable of growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables — everything from strawberries to tomatoes and leafy greens. The nutrient-rich water filters into a reservoir, and the system is designed to monitor the garden as it grows so astronauts can focus on other tasks. Sensors track each plant’s vital signs and resources, gauging water temperature, pH level, and humidity within the pods. 

An AI application called AgQ analyzes and reports that data back to astronauts. The system can detect if a plant is dying or low on water and immediately send an alert to the plant’s caretakers. It can even monitor the astronauts themselves by connecting to a suit that analyzes their nervous systems.

A remote controlled rover named “ROGR” is a collaboration between Havas and NASA. ROGR is just a prototype at this point, but may one day roll around the garden, inspecting plants and relaying video back to astronauts. 

Related: Researchers use fungi to develop space drugs on International Space Station

Astronauts will still need to replace water and harvest their own crops though. Hava insists this hands-on element is important – a form of therapy for astronauts far from Earth, confined to cramped quarters in desolate space. “They get to watch the strawberry grow, see it develop, turn from pink to red,” she told Business Insider. “There’s a psychological benefit through those visual cues. And at the end, you get a prize.” That prize is, of course, produce.

Space fodder tends to be freeze-dried or dehydrated; meals that leave many astronauts craving something fresh — but unfortunately NASA doesn’t pack and ship fresh produce into space. But with systems like SPOT, AgQ, and ROGR, astronauts might soon be able to grow their own gardens in environments as harsh as Mars. 

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this winter with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Killing Eve'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Emerging Tech

Saturn didn’t always have rings, according to new analysis of Cassini data

Saturn's rings are younger than previously believed, according to new data gathered from the Cassini mission. The rings are certainly less than 100 million years old and perhaps as young as 10 million years old.
Emerging Tech

Water-based fuel cell converts carbon emissions to electricity

Scientists from Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology have developed a system which can continuously produce electrical energy and hydrogen by dissolving carbon dioxide in an aqueous solution.
Emerging Tech

Scientists investigate how massive stars die in dramatic hypernova events

Our Sun will gradually fade before expanding into a red giant at the end of its life. But larger mass stars undergo extreme explosive events called hypernovas when they die which outshine their entire galaxies.
Emerging Tech

Pilotless planes are on their way, but would you fly in one?

Airbus says advancements in artificial intelligence can help it toward its goal of building a plane capable of fully autonomous flight, though whether passengers can be persuaded to travel in one is another matter entirely.
Emerging Tech

‘Tech vest’ prevents Amazon workers from colliding with robot co-workers

Amazon workers at its fulfillment centers are using "tech vests" to help protect them from collisions with their robot co-workers. The robots already have obstacle avoidance sensors, but the belt offers another layer of safety.
Emerging Tech

3D printers are finally affordable. Here are the best models under $500

3D printer prices have dropped dramatically over the past few years, but just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it’s worth buying. Here, we’ve rounded up all the cheap 3D printers that are actually worth spending your money on.

T-Mobile 5G rollout: Here is everything you need to know

2019 will be a huge year for T-Mobile. Not only is a merger with Sprint likely, but T-Mobile is also in the midst of building out its next-generation mobile service. Here's everything you need to know about the T-Mobile 5G rollout.
Emerging Tech

ANYmal dog robot can get back on its feet when someone pushes it over

Roboticists at ETH Zurich have demonstrated how their ANYmal four-legged robot is capable of taking a kicking and keeping on walking -- or getting back to its feet if it's pushed over.
Emerging Tech

A.I. finds non-infringing ways to copy drugs pharma spends billions developing

Researchers have demonstrated an artificial intelligence which can find new methods for producing existing pharmaceuticals in a way that doesn’t infringe on existing patents. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Coinstar machines will let you swap cash for Bitcoin at your local grocery store

Coinstar, the company which owns the coin exchange machines found at grocery stores and elsewhere, will soon let you easily buy Bitcoin with your cash money. Here's how it will work.