US: Hackathon to grow crops on Mars sees ‘duckweed’ take prize

Hackathon team ‘Just Food’ and their innovative solution for utilizing the aquatic plant duckweed, took the win Sunday night at the inaugural 2017 Autogrow #CropsOnMars Hackathon.

Global ag-tech company Autogrow acknowledged the solution was incredibly well thought out, achievable and original.

“The team did an impressive job researching how they could not only grow duckweed in a challenging environment but how it could realistically sustain life on Mars,” said Autogrow CEO Darryn Keiller.

“The judges all agreed that, while duckweed wasn’t the most appetizing food source, they couldn’t argue with the nutrient value or the innovative prototype of super thin LED lit grow beds they had created.”

‘Just Food’ and nine other teams hacked for two days on software, data or design solutions involving plant biology, controlled environment agriculture and the Mars environment. The judges looked for originality, sustainability, scalability and the potential for reproducibility on Earth.

Teams had the support of mentors and event organizers Autogrow and Silicon Valley Forum over the two days.

“I was privileged to be a mentor covering all aspects of plant biology and lighting. It was also great hackers had access to other mentors from NASA, IBM, Microsoft, Plenty, Orange Silicon Valley and Western Growers to name a few. And of course, the support of event partner Silicon Valley Forum who found a wonderful venue to hack. Like plants, people thrive in the right environment and we had a great growing environment,” said Autogrow Director of Crop Science and Agronomy Tharindu Weeraratne.

The race for the win was so tight that two teams took the runner up slot with one advocating collapsible growth chambers and the other a rapid deployable enclosure to be set up prior to astronaut arrival using robotic technology.

Mr Keiller noted that although teams were competing against each other there was an impressive amount of support for one another.

“The Hackers (predominantly millennials) gave us great hope for the future due to their creativity, their outlook to the future and to put things right for our planet’s ecosystem while meeting the needs of our growing population.”

“As organizers of the event, the most unexpected and visceral emotion of the collective teams was the spirit of unity around the daunting challenge we put in front of them. Here were people from perhaps 20 nations; students, startup founders, academics and business owners, all coming together to do something that was substantially beyond any one of them. The strength of their ideas was in their diversity as people and their willingness to collaborate.”

With the success of the inaugural event under their belt, Autogrow will announce new dates early in the year for the next #CropsOnMars hackathon, likely to be scheduled for late 2018 and held in Silicon Valley.

Winning team 'Just Food'
  • Wyatt Smith
  • Michelle Jia
  • Deger Turan
  • Santiago Perez
  • Zandra Vinegar
Judging panel
  • Dr. Nate Storey, Chief Science Officer – Plenty
  • Jeffrey Law, Chief Technology Officer – Autogrow
  • Dr Ioana Cozmuta, Industry Engagement, Commercial Space Partnerships – NASA
  • Andrew Scheurmann, CEO – Arch Systems
  • Greg Chiocco, Director of Product Management - Climate Corporation
  • Dr Rosie Bosworth, Strategic Communications – Sustain Ltd
  • Bilind Hajer, Data Engenieer - Product School
  • Tobi Ogunaikee, Software Engineer
  • Isabel Chamberlain, Compliance Specialist and Grower - Plenty
  • Akihiro Ishimura, Senior Consultant/ AgTech Expert - Fujitsu
  • Miika Mantyvaara, Global Marketing, Business Development and Innovation - The Vault
  • Robert (Bruce) Pittman, Chief System Engineer - NASA
  • Bilind Hajer, Data Engineer - Product School
  • Anna Propas, Software Engineer Lead Instructor - Coding Dojo
  • Juanita Dion, Software Engineer - IBM
  • Dennis Donohue, President at Royal Rose Radicchio - Western Growers Association
  • Ulrika Lidstorm, Research Scientist & Program Coordinator - Dupont Pioneer
  • Davies Odu, Software Engineer - Microsoft
  • Itiya Aneece, PhD Researcher - USGS
  • Hugo Wagner, Partner - Orange Silicon Valley
  • Erica Riel Carden, AgTech & FoodTech Advisor - Global Capital Markets
  • Davies Odu, Software Engineer - Microsoft
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