Imagine after a 7-hour long day at school, coming home and having nothing more to eat other than the essentials, and sometimes not even that. Imagine the feeling of expecting the next hot meal to come from a school cafeteria for lunch Monday-Friday. For many kids in the Madison County school district in Indiana, this is their reality. 84% of kids K-12 are on free or reduced lunch, meaning that their families are struggling to provide the proper nutrition at home.
Children who live in low income households typically struggle with food. These homes have less food, and typically unhealthy, due to factors such as fewer grocery store options, lower education level, and family eating habits. Low-income families often rely on public transportation and may not own a personal vehicle. Lack of transportation limits where families can shop and neighborhood convenient stores may be the only option. Convenient stores are anything but what the name implies, as they are overpriced, and lack healthy food options.
The project known as the “Boiler Bot” was a group effort between the classes of Tech120, CGT110, ENGT180, ENGT181 and a local school Anderson Preparatory Academy (APA). TECH120 is a class that focuses on brainstorming, engineering, and group work. Students spend much time learning how to collaborate and successfully go through the engineering design process. Students observe a problem and develop a game plan to solve it. The TECH 120 class did not rush into the project, instead they slowly accustomed themselves to engineering design, teamwork, communication, and the ability to identify and provide a user’s end need. Many of us wanted to dive into the project head first, and there were many frustrations with the large amount of time spent on becoming familiar with how to be successful engineers and project leaders.
(Fig.1 Ideation/problem-solution process)
The students met at a vacant building off campus to work on the Boiler Bot. The students used a simple hoop house style greenhouse. From this, they built the garden bed for the robot and attached the frame that the robot functions on. The power system is a 110-volt line running along the ceiling, and the water system was composed of ½ inch polyvinyl chloride (PVC) with a built-in fertilizer and water pressure reducer. While the students on the frame, greenhouse, and systems teams were working on the greenhouse mechanics, others were working on farming implement heads and the robotics (programming raspberry pi and Arduino microcontrollers).
It is important to note that the students felt one semester was not enough time for the Boiler Bot to meet the end user’s needs. Instead of producing a functional product to meet the client’s need, the students produced a plan for the future with scalability options. The boiler bot is to be used indoors and outdoors, year around. Not only does this supplement the current APA food pantry, but it is a technological advancement that can inspire kids to learn more about what technology can do for them. The boiler bot is a beautiful creation, because it allows for expansion and personalizing with demand from the community.
This project prototype was made possible through using free online help, and receiving grants/donations. The project estimated total was $3799.65 after totaling travel, supply, services, green house BOM, and more. Thanks to the generosity of local community sponsors and Purdue University, this dream was a reality. The Purdue students aimed to provide a fun way for children to learn about robotic technology, farming, and healthy eating. Food insecurity can lead to negative consequences regarding a child’s education such as absenteeism and issues concentrating in class. As students of Purdue, we want to see upcoming generations have the opportunities that we had. The ability to work on a project as great as the Boiler Bot was eye opening, as we learned a lot about ourselves and our community alike.
(Fig. 2 The Boiler Bot prototype in APA gym)
Note from the author: I hope that you found my first blog for Not So Technical Blog everybit as amusing as informative. This project was a bit of a chaotic one that had a host of different emotions, ideas, and levels of passions. It was a melting pot of inspirations and motives. I chose this as my first blog post for Not So Technical because it was a project centered around technology with nothing but unselfish grit and spirit from the students to make this happen. I would like to say thank you so professor Lorri Barnett from the Tech120 class for giving myself and the other students this challenge.