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Another project

Since the beginning of Fab Academy 2019, I have been contemplating about my final projects, and the idea has been changing constantly since the very beginning.

When I finalized to the project of making a self-irrigating system, I decided to move the ideas of other projects here. Hopefully, I can find some other time to turn them into reality.

I have been thinking about making a project that helps people learn English vocabulary. I am thinking about making it a fun experience for people to play games and in this process they can remember the words more naturally.

The Story & Inspiration

As an English major, it seems to be quite straightforward and natural for me to take English as a language that I use frequently in life and work. However, I got asked a lot by many friends about how I learn English. I used to say “just follow what it said in Chinese “听说读写: listen-speak-read-write”, you need to listen a lot to grasp a feeling of the language, to read aloud and try to speak blah blah blah”. And then a while later, my friend might come back and say “it doesn’t work”. Then I will say “try read some books, start from short artiles or jokes, and underscore or write down the words you do not know, memorize them later” etc. This kind of conversation occured many times, and now looking back, most of my friends did not find it easier to learn English (or another foreign language.)

And with a hind-sight reflection, I realized I need to share my experience as a beginner to my friends. When I started learning English in middle school, I used to randomly write down some English words on my sketchbook whenever I have some fragmentations of time. Some of the words were from the textbooks, some from the short articles or novels that I read. This process did not bore me because I regarded it as a way to brush up my handwriting skills (Just like Chinese calligraphy, you need to practise different strokes repeatedly.) And I don’t think many people will enjoy this process. So, how about I created a project that “mimick” this process and then allow people to remember the words by playing games?!

Which game will it be? My mind began searching, and this game appeared in my mind: a whack-a-mole game. A a person who does not follow the trending new games, a retro gram like whack-a-mole makes it not only easy but also fun to play. Of course this is my own thinking without any proof as to whether it will work yet.


Image Credit: Wikipedia Whack-A-Mole

I asked some friends about their thoughts, and many are very interested in using this project.

Project Basic Info

  • What is it?
    A Whack-a-mole game that helps you learn English words

  • Who will use it?
    Anyone (both kids and adults) who want to remember English words

  • How will it work?
    (1) Transfer the specific lexicons into the gaming system (either teachers update the daily/weekly new words or individual learners update the words from the articles/books they are reading)
    (2) The system will display the words randomly, and the player will hit the letters of the words to win the game.

  • What will it look like?
    I assume the letters will display as the qwerty keyboards, in this way, even if the player hits the buttons fast and doesn’t remember which letter it is, she/he remembers the locations of the letters. (Hopefully it will help especially for people who use keyboards frequently. And her/his hands might automatically touch the respective buttons when she/he is typing a certain word.) And yet, if the shape is the same as normal keyboards, it might not be appealing enough as a game. I am thinking about making it in a shape of a bunny (I was born in the year of rabbit and rabbit is cute!) or a butterfly (I remember a customer of my computer Seeed Studio DIYed a keyboard with the shape of butterfly which looks so pretty!) According to my shattered memory, the creator of this project designed his own PCB board etc. - I need to dig deeper to find out more about this project: for my skills, I think I might use some existing controllers to control instead of designing a complete new board. Will figure it out later.

This is the basic info of my potential final project, which is sketched in my mind for now. I will need to do some more research to see whether there are already some similar projects available. What I can learn from the existing projects? How I can improve based on the resources that are currently available etc. :D

When it came to the assignment of Week 13, it got me into deeper thinkings about my final projects. I came up with two other ideas, one is an open source camera trap for conservation. Here are more details about this idea.

And The third idea for my final project is:

an Auto-irrigating/extending Shelf/System for Green Plants.

Questions to be answered

What will it do?

It is a green plan automatic project that can pull the 2nd and 3rd layers of the shelf to two opposite sides when the sunlight comes out. And it should be able to automatically irrigate the green plans when the soil humidity is below the pre-set level.

Who’s done what beforehand?

What will you design?

For mechanical/structural parts:
- I will design an extendable shelf. (This is completed in week 08 assignment).
For electronic parts:
I will design the followings:
- a motor-controlled system to move the shelf
- a soil-humidity sensor that can detect soil humidity of the green plants (input device)
- a sunlight sensor that can detect sunlight and trigger the motor to move & pull out the shelves (input device)
- a microcontroller similar to Arduino to control the system

What materials and components will be used?

Where will come from?

How much will they cost?

Item Component/Material Quantity Source (where) Cost per unit Sub-total (RMB) Note
1 wood or OSB 1 available at Chaihuo x.factory - for making the extendable shelf
2 water pump 1 local vendor - - for irrigating the green plants
3 MCU - Arduino 1 make one ? ?
4 rubber tube 1 local vendor ? ? for transporting water
5 motor 4 Taobao ? ?
6 motor driver 4
7 soil humidity sensor 1 make one
8 sunlight sensor 1 make one
9 power supply 1

The Idea

Here at our Fab Lab Chaihuo x.factory, we have many community events and visits. After the events/visits, we have many empty plastic bottles. In the past, we threw the bottles in the bins and did not recycle them. I have been thinking about how to recycle the bottles, but I did not manage to. On the one hand, I did not come up with a good idea yet; and on the other hand, I did not master some practical skills to actually get my hands dirty and work on it.

And in Week 08 “Computer Controlled Machining”, our assignment is to make something big. I had the idea of making an extendable shelf, which I can put plastic bottles on the shelf for planting green plants or flowers. And since our Fab Lab is in the basement, there is not enough sunlight on the green plants even they are not planted on the top shelf.

And here is the extendable shelf that I made.

And after a few weeks of planting flowers in the tiny bottles, I realized there were a few problems:

  1. The bottles are too small. It couldn’t contain enough soil for the flowers to grow. They will grow to about 15cm tall and then I have to transplant them into a bigger flowerpot. Some of them did not survive after the transplant.

  2. When no one is in the office to irrigate the plants, they will not survive. In the past weeks, I go to the office almost every day partly because I have to work on my Fab Academy assignments :D However, we have many holidays especially in the following month. When we have long holidays such as the 7-day National Day holiday in October and 2-week Spring Festival holiday, no one will stay in the office. We need a smarter system to automatically irrigate the plants when necessary.

So, here comes the idea of my final project - an auto irrigating system. It should have the following features:

  1. Upcyling: Use plastic bottle as the container of the soil - combining the bottles into one big bed for the plants.

  2. Extendable: The shelf should be extendable. Extend the lower layers so that the plants can be exposed to enough sunlight. When there is no sunlight, unfold the layers to save space in the office.

  3. Auto-irrigating: It should be equipped with an auto-irrigating system. When the soil humidity is below than the pre-set level, it will be irrigated automatically.

Here is a sketch of the project.

(sketch to be uploaded)

Material List

Item Component/Material Quantity Source (where) Cost per unit Sub-total (RMB) Note
1 wood or OSB 1pcs(1.2x2.4m) Chaihuo x.factory - for making the extendable shelf
2 MCU - Arduino 1 make one 20RMB(2USd) 20RMB(2USd) to control the irrigating system
3 water pump 3 Taobao 36.5RMB(5.3USD) 109.5RMB(15.9USD) for irrigating the green plants
4 rubber tube 3 Taobao -(included in the water pump) for transporting water
5 soil humidity sensor 3 Taobao 14.8RMB(2.2USD) 44.4RMB(6.6USD) to detect soil humidity
9 plastic bottle several daily recycle - - to make the bed for plants

Process of Making the Project

Mechanical/Structural Design


Testing with an Arduino

PCB Design of the customized controller

Update the system with the customized electronic parts