Biome, a company developing air bioremediation technologies (air filtration using plants!), approached Oat Foundry to develop a new line of products: self-contained, USB- powered desktop planters that clean indoor air. Biome’s research dug up many promising plants that were capable of removing airborne pollutants, but they needed to find a way to get the dirty air in contact with these plants’ bioremediation engine: the symbiotic microbes living on their roots. The challenges included:

  • Making a continuous stream of unfiltered air pass through the root system
  • Maintaining plant health
  • Powering the entire system from a USB port
  • A product “footprint” comparable to that of a coffee mug
  • Creating an aesthetic design and continuous operation that would be unobtrusive in a desktop environment

On September 7th 2014, Oat Foundry joined Biome in helping to launch the USB planter at GreenFest Philly, which received an outpouring of support from the Philly community.

To expose the plant’s roots to ambient air, Oat Foundry proposed deep water hydroponics, a method of plant production that suspends a plant’s roots in a nutrient-rich water solution. Continuous airflow is introduced to the plant using a 5V blower fan, while water and nutrients are supplied from a reservoir kept underneath the root system. To avoid stagnation or the growth of algae or bacteria in the nutrient-rich water, a submersible pump provides nutrient water into the plant’s grow medium, an inert substrate that the plant is suspended from. This not only agitates and aerates the water (inhibiting stagnation), but also feeds the plant in the early stages of its development, before the roots can reach down to the reservoir.

Oat Foundry both designed and built this stunning unit. The body consists of laser-cut birch plywood bent using the concept of “living hinges,” a pattern of cuts that makes sheet materials much more flexible. Wedged mortise and tenon joints hold the wood together, eliminating the use of fasteners or adhesives. The plant is supported from clay pellets inside a netcup, which is seated in a ringed fixture that rests on saddle joints, another joint that uses neither fasteners or adhesives. The blower fan and 3D printed water reservoir are mounted directly to the body. The blower and submersible pump are both supplied from a 5V USB power supply.

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