Article and photography by Luobogao
It was a blazing hot afternoon at a maker base that has long been dedicated to agriculture. The whole staff was busy organizing the two-week Southern Taiwan Maker Camp, the goal of which was to use digital manufacturing equipment to create farming tools to solve problems. After a delay owing to a typhoon, and some other setbacks, they were finally able to make their product presentations on 13 August.
The participants could not contain their excitement while they tested their products and practised their 5-minute presentations. I was curious about the products and the different kinds of agricultural problems. It would require real farming experience to formulate these questions.
Finally it was time for the presentations. Director Cheng-Fang Ke of the Yunlin-Chiayi-Tainan Regional Branch of the Workforce Development Agency had been invited to do the MC’ing. He acknowledged the efforts of the participants to show how much he values the maker movement.
Ten teams took part, each making the best possible presentations using videos or skits to make them lively and interesting. The winning product was the “Green-Power Fruit Dryer”; the “Extending Electric Fruit-Picker” came second, and the “Rapid Nitrate Sensor” third. Other great products included the “Convenient Fruit-Bagging Device,” the “Super Agronomic Garden Weed Terminator” and the “Farm Security System.”
For people who missed the live broadcast on the Southern Taiwan Maker Center Facebook Page, here are some of the products I picked.
The Pomelo Picking Masters made the “Extending Electric Fruit-Picker”. The team leader comes from a family of pomelo farmers who understand how time-consuming and laborious it can be to pick pomelos: Ladders are often required for smaller trees, but taller trees have to be climbed by hand, which can be dangerous, which is why automated pickers can make an important difference.
Traditional pickers only cut the fruit from the branch but don’t catch them, so the fruit often fall to the ground, leading to losses in yield. In addition, such pickers are not telescopic and using them requires significant strength, which can be especially hard for women. The Extendable Electric Fruit-Picker enables the farmer to adjust the length of the picker at the press of a button, thus enabling them to safely pick fruit from tall trees, while also making the job a lot easier.
My next team is Agricultural Production, all of whose members are currently studying at the Department of Agronomy at National Chiayi University. Their project was the “Super Agronomic Garden Weed Terminator”.
According to Agricultural Production, this technology is “twenty years ahead in Taiwan but fifty years behind the rest of the world”. The Cover Crop Roller is something they have been looking at for some time, and many other countries have been using it for quite a while, but it is found nowhere in Taiwan. That’s why the team decided to make a mini furrow roller that is specially adapted for growing vegetables in Taiwan. The white 3D-printed wheel is actually metal and has injection and drip holes in the sides—the user fills it up with water to make it heavy enough to flatten the weeds, after which they die and decompose. This aim of this project was to create a manual solution to weed problems that would not damage the soil—a new eco-friendly approach.
My last team is Eat Healthy with their project the “Rapid Nitrate Sensor”. If you are a keen cook you will not want to miss this, and the term “nitrate” should be familiar. When the body takes in excessive levels of nitrates they are converted into nitrites, which then combine with amines in the gut and may form carcinogens that can cause gastric cancer.
Nitrates are often found even in organic vegetables. Why? First, the overuse of organic ammoniates; second, improper processing of organic fertilizer; and third, use of greenhouses means vegetables undergo limited photosynthesis and do not efficiently break nitrates down. (Source: Common Health Magazine)
The Eat Healthy team leader has been looking into the nitrate problem for some time and knew you can buy home test strips to measure nitrate concentrations. But the test strip give inaccurate readouts, so the team wanted to make a device that would measure the precise amount of nitrates in vegetables to enable us all to cook and eat food with a peace of mind.
The winning team Can’t Get Skinny used 3D printing and laser engraving to create their “Green-Power Fruit Dryer”, an affordable, solar-powered food dehydrator that is both energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Making dried fruit yourself is a lot safer than buying it.
The device consists of wooden boards and cupboards and has metal pieces to absorb solar rays. Once loaded, the device is placed in direct sunlight for two to six hours, and by the end you have a bunch of tasty dried fruit!