Co.Design

NASA-Inspired Garden Grows Plants In A Ferris Wheel

It may seem a little silly at first glance, but there’s a lot of good sense in the design.

Growing plants isn’t hard. It’s mostly a challenge of providing the right amount of light and water, and the rest takes care of itself. But growing plants in space is a whole other challenge. You can’t exactly stick a potted plant in a window. Water droplets float. And if your herbs don’t grow, there’s no grocery store to drive to.

In the 1980s, NASA came up with a solution. It was a hydroponic wheel that was never developed into a functioning device. Thinking that was a shame, DesignLibero picked up the idea where NASA left off. The resulting concept is called The Green Wheel, what studio head Libero Rutilo describes as “an iconic garden object for residential use, like a TV.” (For those of you wondering at this point what growing plants in space has to do with growing plants on earth, well, clearly you’ve never lived in a dark, cramped garden apartment.)

The Green Wheel is essentially a mini ferris wheel, grasping plants by the roots and spinning them around the circle once per hour. At the bottom of the ride, a water reservoir feeds water to the roots, while all the rest of the way around, each plant has an equal opportunity to soak in light.

The plan isn’t just a fun gimmick, the circular design actually fits more plant real estate into a smaller footprint. “If you calculate the circumference of the wheel, you have larger growing area that helps to cultivate more plants with a lower energy cost,” explains Rutilo. It’s hard to believe, but that wheel is actually holding over 8 feet of plants, a space savings that allows one light source to do where, traditionally, two or more would be required.

Even still, how many of us are willing to buy appliances just for our plants? I’ll make you a deal, DesignLibero: Combine your Green Wheel with a Dyson Air Multiplier, and I’m sold.

[Hat tip: Tuvie]

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13 Comments

  • Adam Benoit

    This was done a decade ago by marijuana growers. Nothing now other than mainstream coverage.

  • grist

    I'm pretty sure this won't be developed into a product. While it certainly looks awesome, from a technical viewpoint it has many serious problems. Let's look at the disadvantages as compared to the traditional method of two or more trays stacked above each other:
    - you need a water pump instead of letting the water drip passively from above through all trays
    - you have to add a pump and a motor for the rotation, thus adding moving parts, thus adding adding failure sources to the system
    - you have a harder time to  create proper day/night cycles, which most plants need for proper growth (as the light regulates the plant's growth hormones)
    - you have a water source near an electrical motor for god's sake!
    - currently, you cannot buy high power leds in a form factor suitable for this design anywhere, as  there is no room for passively cooling the leds without also shading the plants. And you need high power leds, or else the emitted light would not be enough to create food.

    While the design makes a bit of sense in a zero gravity environment because the watering solution is of use there, it really makes no sense on earth. 

    But it certainly looks cool.

  • Michael Browne

    While your first two points are valid (taking the first one as "increased complexity means increased points of failure"), your last three are either misinformed or alarmist.

    It would be just the same to add day and night cycles to this device, as it would be in a traditional garden: a simple on-off hourly timer would suffice. But if you wanted to be more complex, a simple program or hardware configuration of AND/OR/NAND/NOR/NOT gates could create a light cycle that actually brightens and dims as the day progresses - if a combination of Red and Blue LEDs were used, you could even match specific spectrums (that plants actually make use of) for specific times of day (sunrise, sunset)

    It is extremely easy to water-proof (most you would need in this case is water-proofed to a few feet) an electrical motor. I would imagine they did this already. However, if they did not, it would not be terribly difficult to arrange the bulkheads to ensure dry operation of the electrical motor at all times. Have the motor rotate the wheel in a clockwise direction (in the design provided here), seal the reservoir to the highest point, place a bulkhead above the electric motor, leaving room only for the gear (though a chain and sprocket drive would be a better choice for this particular design - smoother motion, able to apply drive to nearly the entire circumference of the wheel - greatly lowering the gearing ratios and thus the power required from the motor, and smaller holes in the bulk head to reduce the chance of accidental water exposure to the motor.)

    High-brightness LEDs do exist actually. In fact, that is one of the LED's most notable feature - that they are so bright and powerful. Most LED flashlights or headlamps only use 3-5 LEDs. Even some stage lights now use LEDs in place of incandescent, fluorescent or halogen bulbs. LEDs are some of the brightest light sources you can buy; the power-sipping factor is just a bonus. But, because they use so little power, they generate very little heat. Passive air cooling would be more than enough to keep them cool - they use less than 2v each in most cases (your standard 60w incandescent bulb uses around 120v).

    Yes, while most of these features do increase the complexity (and so the chance of failure), have you ever considered the complexity of any number of things you use every day? Or how each of these things, from your coffee maker, to your car, your bike, your phone and computer, your ball point pens, all work nearly every time you use them - and when failure does occur, it's usually in one of the simpler parts, like a piece of tubing getting worn out or improper battery care, or what have you.

    All said and done, it's a very interesting design. Assuming a 1-foot depth, having 8-square feet of gardening space in a city apartment (in much less floor space than that) is a very attractive idea. From an engineering standpoint ('m a third-year Electromechanical Engineering student at Wentworth Institute of Technology), I'm surprised no one jumped on this before. Back in the 70s, "space" anything was all the rage, all they would have had to do is market this as the "Space Garden" and people would have bought them.

  • wj

    what keeps the plants from falling out while they are upside down?  I'd assume their root system, but what about when they are young?

  • Habitile

    The roots can be in soil or any other medium - its the living strength of the roots that will solidify the plants tenancy. The wheel is spinning so no plant hangs upside down consistantly for too long which could cause the plant to "fall out" from the weight of the vegetation...

  • Kevon Lindenberg

    they're probably rooted in a coconut choir base which will hold the seed in there quite well.