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Student IoT Project Lets You Communicate With Your Plants

Some people seem to have a green-thumb or an intuitive touch with plants, always knowing exactly what they need. The rest of us could use a way for our plants to communicate with us. With this in mind, a team of students built Phyll, an internet-of-things (IoT) system that captures data on how a plant is doing and converts that into conversational English.

“The idea is that we are all connected in constant ways to everything and this is a way to be connected to something small and quiet and constant,” says Casey Childers, who built Phyll with Phoebe Ye, Eric Churchill and Sergey Potashnikov.

The system utilizes the Tessel hardware device, which allows for IoT coding in JavaScript.

“We built an algorithm to interpret raw data into actionable information,” says Ye. “We set up a system where we can tell the user you need to water your plant or that it’s not getting enough sun.”

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sers can even talk to their plant through a bot built by the team that uses natural language processing to determine if you are inquiring about the health of your plant or just making small talk.

“We wanted to give your plant a personality that it is dictated by the health of your plant,” Churchill explains.

While the final version used Tessel, the team also worked with another popular IoT system, Raspberry Pi.

“We developed on the Tessel and Raspberry Pi with Python,” notes Childers. “We are probably one light refactor away from being hardware agnostic.”

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From left, Sergey Potashnikov, Eric Churchill, Phoebe Ye and Casey Childers built Phyll, a system that uses Internet-of-Things technology to allow people insight into how their plants are doing.

The system gathers moisture and sunlight data, and then communicates that to the user. Of course, plants have widely varied needs, and so Phyll taps into a database to give plant-specific recommendations. Phyll also turns keeping your plant healthy into a game.

“Each plant starts out with five hearts [on a health meter] and that can go up or down based on how it’s doing,” says Churchill.

“It’s Fitbit for plants,” adds Ye.

Looking back on their experiences at Hack Reactor, the team was amazed by how far they’d come.

“I feel like I learned more in the last three months then I’ve learned at any point in my life,” says Churchill. Churchill was in the Peace Corps in Senegal, and was initially intending to be a doctor, but decided that the medical education process took too long--typically at least seven years, assuming one has already completed all required pre-med courses.

I feel like I learned more in the last three months then I’ve learned at any point in my life.
— Eric Churchill, Hack Reactor graduate

Ye, who was a senior financial analyst prior to the program, echoes that sentiment.

“I think learning to program is a lifelong journey, but I’m so surprised in the last three months we have built multiple applications and learned so much JavaScript and so many JavaScript frameworks. Learning to code gives you endless opportunities.”

Childers was particularly impressed with the program’s emphasis on soft skills.

“The pair programming, student driven lectures, presentations, user story--all of the components that really go into working in the tech world that are undervalued are given credence here.”

Want to grow your skills? Apply to Hack Reactor today.

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