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Answering Food Insecurity: Serving the Community With Food and Knowledge Using Technology


The courses of Tech120, CGT110, and ENGT 180/181 and Red Gold at Purdue collaborated to design a robot that would plant and water a garden for a local community charter school. The students centered the project on the users’ needs for fresh food, nutrition education, and early exposure to STEM for children. The school, Anderson Preparatory Academy (APA), is comprised of many children who come from low-income families and are in the free or reduced lunch program.

Inspired from “Farm Bot,” a similar system that allows for almost hands-free gardening, the “Boiler Bot” is designed to be scalable so children at the charter school can work to expand it and yield more food. The students of Purdue made certain that the Boiler Bot provided access to fresh produce, while encouraging children to take interest in STEM fields. The kids gain pride in growing food while learning about robotics, agriculture, and teamwork. APA and Purdue share a vision in which students of both schools can work collaboratively and expand on this robotic greenhouse.


Figure 1. Problem-solution process

Figure 1. Problem-solution process

TECH 120 was primarily responsible for communicating with all stakeholders and especially APA. Commandant Jill Barker of APA was the primary resource for questions and the design process. The classes followed a five-step solution to address and answer the problem, shown in Figure 1. Several exercises and team-oriented activities were utilized during the process.

Figure 2. original inspiration

Figure 2. original inspiration

Instead, the students designed a way for the robotic frame to be mounted to a mobile frame on casters so that it could be moved to multiple planter beds. The students wired and plumbed the greenhouse to work with three planter beds. See Figure 2 and Figure 3 for the contrast between the FarmBot original stationary design and the greenhouse set up by Purdue students.


The students also did independent research regarding food deserts and the use of technology and robotics in farming. The findings validated their reasons for creating the Boiler Bot and indicated it had a future to grow with appropriate technology. The group found that living in a food desert leads not only to poor nutrition, but also to attendance, behavior, and attention issues in class.


While the Purdue students implemented a robot capable of farming, the robot is an innovative product that will allow for a productive relationship between APA and Purdue. The classes TECH 120, CGT 110, and ENGT 180/181, and the company Red Gold, focused their energy on planning a product and a system that met the user’s needs.

Source: Purdue University
Author: Courtney Simpson

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