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Week 20. Project Development

My final project idea has changed many times since the beginning of this year’s Fab Academy. Even in early June, I was contemplating about finalizing the final project idea. When I was beginning to purchase the materials and parts such as water pump for my project, some of the issues that were obstacles actually helped me make my mind. For example, when I was thinking about making an auto-extendable shelf, I need gears + rails etc. And when I couldn’t find the right match for the parts, I decided to change the plan and then I finally came to the conclusion of making an aquaponics system.

However when the decision was made, it was already June 5th. So i had to make a plan to make sure my final project can be delivered within the time frame - before the final presentation on June 14th.

The final decision for my final project is to make an aquaponics system. It should be consisting the following parts: a structural part that combines a grow bed, a fish tank as well as the support frame; an electronic part that combines a micro-controller and sensors. The main functions of the aquaponics system are: when the humidity is lower than the pre-set level, the humidity sensor will trigger the water pump to automatically irrigate the grow bed; when it’s dark, the light sensor will trigger to turn on the LED strip to make sure the vegetables are exposed to more light, so that it grows better.

Schedule/Plan for Final Project

The following is the schedule I made on my Notes on my phone which is also synced on my computer.

June 6th
1. Prepare & buy materials
- Water pump
- LED strip
- Plastic container
- Components
- etc.

June 7th
1. Design the microcontroller

  • learn about Satshakit

  • Design a Satshakit + Grove connectors

  • Learn editing the video - downsize

June 8th
1. Design the structural parts, make & test

  • 3D design the bell syphon + 3D print it

  • 2D design the aquaponic frame + make it

  • assemble & test

June 9th
1. Test the control part with Arduino + sensors

  • Programming

  • make the extended part for grow bed

June 10th
1. Design the electronic parts

  • Mico-controller

  • Input - light sensor

  • Make them

  • Milling

  • Soldering

June 11th
1. Replace the commercial parts with the self-made ones

  • replace

  • Test

June 12th
Decoration + video editing + presentation preparing
- Vinyl cutting stickers

  • Edit video + downsize

  • Presentation slide

  • Upload

June 14

The Reality of Project Development

From the following screenshot you can see the plans & checked items that I made.

With 3 sleepless nights and many extra hours that I took advantage of during work (Thank you very much for the kind support from my colleagues at Seeed Studio), I finally managed to finish the final project and presented as scheduled.

What tasks have been completed, and what tasks remain?

completed list:

  • components/parts sourcing
  • microcontroller PCB design + fabrication
  • aquaponics frame design + fabrication
  • extended grow bed design + fabrication
  • Bell siphon design + fabrication
  • Sticker design + cutting
  • connection + programming
  • clay pebbles & vegetable seeds purchasing

remain tasks:

  • design & fabrication of light sensor
  • fish purchasing
  • replication

However, I had to say, the final project was not as good as I expected it to be. There are some of the items I expected to delivery but failed such as the Light Sensor. I meant to make two board, one microcontroller (Satshakit + Grove connectors), and a light sensor, but I did not manage to, due to the tight timeframe.

What questions need to be resolved?

When purchasing materials, I actually bought extra parts just in case I’d break some and need some spares. I’ve seen many of the ‘spare parts’ got stocked in warehouses and never been used. I’d like to make good use of the materials that I purchase, make them valuable. So I am planning to replicate and make two more aquaponics systems in the near future. But I have to test the current system to make sure it works.

What I learnt?

First of all, I’ve gained some knowledge, techniques and skills in making and fabrication, including:

  • PCB design & fabrication

  • soldering

  • programming (mainly with Arduino IDE)

  • 3D design on Fusion 360 & 3D printing

  • 2D design with living hinges on Inkscape & laser-cutting

  • documentation etc.

Apart from the technologies, techniques and skills in making this project, I’ve also learnt the followings:

  • learn to search for resources: There are tons of information out there in the internet and the community online and offline. Learn to search for the right resources with the right keyword or relevant words and you can save a lot of time struggling.

  • Project-based learning is a very effective way for people to learn knowledge and master skills.

  • It’s important to document, including the ups and downs, what was wrong, how was the fault found and how was the problem solved etc.. Through documentation, we can remember better, as the Chinese saying goes “The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory”. I used to love keeping notes, but then I gave up that habit. Now it made me realize that good habit should not be deserted. If I document, I can go back to check the notes when I forgot the actual process of operating a machine etc.. What’s more, with documentation shared in the public, more people get to learn more efficiently. I personally has been benefitting from other seniors’ documentation, which I have always been grateful. So I also tried my best to document the process, hopefully it’d be helpful for others as well, especially those who do not have much experience or background in engineering/fabrication like me :)