Mini greenhouses for urban residents

Master’s students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have developed smart indoor greenhouses that let urban residents grow herbs, lettuce or strawberries in their own apartments. The systems are ready for market launch.

Two EPFL Master’s students have established a startup called Caulys to help urban residents become producers of fresh local fruits and vegetables by equipping apartments and other buildings with their own little gardens. This will help eliminate the need for plastic packaging, pesticides and GMOs, while at the same time prevent the carbon emissions associated with transporting food over long distances.

“There soon won’t be enough arable land left on our planet to feed the whole population,” says bioengineering student Tom Lachkar, co-founder and head of business development at Caulys. “Greenhouses like ours could be used to supplement traditional farms.”

Caulys’s greenhouses are modular in design, operate autonomously and are easy to use. The systems can have up to 4 shelves and house 200 plants. Sensors and LEDs continually monitor and adjust the systems’ light, temperature and humidity to create the right conditions for the budding plants. The soil unit consists of a natural substrate, seeds and nutrients, and it is watered using a closed-loop irrigation system.

“We imagine people wouldn’t need to spend more than 20 minutes a week maintaining their gardens,” says mechanical engineering student Grégoire Gentile, co-founder and CEO of Caulys.

The Master’s students have already tested their greenhouses in an EPFL cafeteria, where they installed 18 systems with 50 plants each to grow radishes, arugula and basil microgreens. Caulys hopes to launch its greenhouses on the market by the end of the year at a price of around 3,000 Swiss francs for a four-shelf unit.

Image credit: EPFL 2019 / Jamani Caillet

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