The Soil Collective

A collection of updates from teams around the world who are working on the Soil Testing Kit challenge

Results from the NASA Space Apps Challenge May 1, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — lmsee @ 10:23 am

More than a week has now gone by since I took part in the NASA Space Apps ChalleIMG_2779nge and I am still thinking about what a great experience this was. This was my first real hackathon so I didn’t quite know what to expect. In collaboration with Grower’s Nation and the PineApple Project (both of which came out of last year’s event!), IIASA co-led on a challenge to develop a cheap soil testing kit. We were one of 58 challenges, some of which emerged organically during the weekend. In the end, more than 9,000 people attended (including virtual participation) from 484 organizations around the world. The challenge was co-ordinated in 83 cities, where I attended the one held in London at the Google campus. My colleague Dr Ratislav Skalsky attended virtually from IIASA and gave us excellent soil expertise throughout the weekend.

When I arrived Saturday morning, the first thing we did was present our pitch toIMG_2805 about 120 people who had come to the London venue to lend their skills, time and energy to solving various challenges. After the presentations, I was overwhelmed by the interest in our challenge and we set straight to work. Or I should say the team set straight to work. Based on our remit of wanting cheap hardware solutions to measuring basic soil parameters such as pH, temperature and soil moisture, and an app to collect the data, they simply got down to it.

PeoplIMG_2814e of the Soil documents their journey through the weekend and the final solution that they developed.  The remarkable outcome was a sensor to measure soil moisture and other parameters for a total of £3.34 or roughly 5 US dollars. They also built an SMS and smart phone app for collecting and displaying the data. This solution has now made it through to the global judging, where it will compete against 170 other solutions that were developed around the world. The team has made a really inspiring video of the solution and the results will be announced 22 May. You can also help us by voting for the team, where public voting will be available from the NASA Space Apps site from 3 May to 17 May 2013.

However, this was only one part of the weekend. A team working in Exeter has also developed a low-cost solution to measuring soil moisture (which they call MudPi) so we plan to do some serious testing of these solutions in the field in the near future. So watch this space for updates on how these solutions perform.

Another area of the challenge where we made some advances was in the idea of putting together a simple visual guide for soil parameter testing. We collectively filled in our soil parameter testing spreadsheet over the hackathon weekend, and visual designers began to turn these into simple-to-follow illustrations. We realized that there are many different  solutions out there, e.g. measuring pH with red cabbage!! so we came up with the idea of building a soil testing encyclopedia. Rather than advocating one or two methods for measuring soil parameters, we want to provide users with a range of methods. Then based upon what they have access to and how accurate the test needs to be, they can measure the soil parameters in their local environment. Eventually these local soil measurements will feed into the Grower’s Nation app and provide information on what can be grown and when to plant anywhere in the world. Again, watch this space for updates on the encyclopedia.

So all in all, I can say that I was incredibly inspired by the energy and skills of the people I worked with over the challenge weekend. Would I do it again? Absolutely! We’ve already been thinking of new ideas for next year’s challenge so if you have a grand challenge you need solutions for, consider a hackathon as one way of tapping into incredibly talented people. On another level though, it’s just plain fun!


People Of The Soil April 20, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — jeanjimbo @ 3:36 pm
Project summary:

The soil test kit challenge presents a need for better information on soils from around the world to help people grow crops & aid in research. Better soil information helps to grow food more accurately on potentially valuable land that is currently unused. Information can be crowdsourced and disseminated using simple solutions including affordable sensors and mobile devices.

The People of the Soil aims to leverage a small, cheap, disposable device to collect soil data, send these  to a database via a web app or SMS. The data can be retrieved from the web app and SMS.


View our Challenge Video April 18, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — lmsee @ 8:05 am

The aim of our challenge is to create an easy to use, digital, illustrated soil testing guide and develop affordable hardware solutions for collecting soil information that can then be fed back and translated into growing advice. We’ve created a short video of the challenge, which we will present at #spaceapps in London We hope to see you there or virtually!


Help us Populate our Soil Testing Parameter Spreadsheet April 16, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — lmsee @ 7:09 pm

As part of our #spaceapps challenge, we would like you to help us fill in our soil testing parameter spreadsheet, which is available as a google doc if you click here.

In the first column are different soil parameters that we have identified. Feel free to add more! Then for each parameter, add any tests that you know of (or can find through the internet) for any of the  parameters listed, the equipment needed and the method. These tests can be very simple and require nothing more than basic equipment readily available from a supermarket or DIY store, or you might envision a simple hardware solution, which can be one of the aspects of the challenge that you focus on. There are several columns to fill in for each parameter/test pair, which we hope are self-explanatory but leave a comment if this is not the case and we’ll explain in more detail. Don’t feel like you have to fill in every column. Just contribute what you can as we greatly appreciate your time and efforts!

The column at the end is entitled ‘Challenge’. This column is entirely open to interpretation, e.g. a simple challenge might be to build a sensor to measure soil moisture that would cost less than 20 Euros. Or you might think of a specfic challenge that you want to tackle for one of the parameters so please tell us about this in the doc.


Welcome! April 14, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Selena @ 11:38 pm

The International Space Apps Challenge will take place between 18 and 21 April 2013. This blog is a collection of updates, progress and musings from teams/ individuals around the world who are working towards a solution for the Soil Testing Kit challenge.

The comments section can help us to work together to find the best solutions.

If you would like to be added as a blogger, please add a comment below.