Home-built "Bio Computer" runs Linux, grows wheatgrass
May 15, 2012
We've seen the wacky homebrew projects of computer hardware hacker Mike Schropp before. Mindful Gizmag readers may recall his triple quad-core i7 LEGO PC housing that we looked at last July. But his latest project, the "Bio Computer," is rather more oddball, taking a turn distinctly towards the horticultural with a PC case adapted to ... grow wheatgrass.
"I'm not complaining by any means, but I do feel as my basement becomes populated with more and more tech based projects that the environment is missing something organic, something natural to balance things out," writes Schropp, on his website, Total Geekdom. But where you or I might buy in a cactus or two, an amaryllis or perhaps even go bonsai, Schropp opted to merge the organic with the inorganic, putting the waste heat from a PC to use with an integrated flowerbed.
Well, not strictly a flowerbed. After a bit of research, Schropp decided that wheatgrass was the ideal species to grow from a PC, being drawn to its simple clean look and attractive hue. He patched together a working PC from various donated machines, selecting a 3-GHz Pentium 4 processor, which is notorious for running hot.
Schropp then went about refitting the case, a process which involved fitting clear acrylic panels so the soil in the wheatgrass bed and the interior workings of the machine could be seen. To get extra heat into the soil, a series of acrylic tubes protruding down inside the machine were introduced, which in turn proved the ideal place for a substrate to allow drainage of the soil. These were put in place and made watertight using a needle dropper, acrylic cement and a thin layer of silicone.
When completed, Schropp used a variable-speed fan and Prime95 to ensure the CPU ran flat out in order to carry out tests growing wheatgrass. "When the soil temperature was too high, the growth of the wheatgrass would slow," he writes, finding the optimum temperature for peak growth to be approximately 66 degrees F (19 degrees C).
It's an impressive and thought-provoking project, not least because of the just-plain-weird sight of a computer with grass growing out of it says something about all the screens, hard edges and wires with which we increasingly surround ourselves (perhaps less so, the wires). It also makes a definite if somewhat ambiguous statement about waste hear and personal electronics. But this is no project for the novice case modder. Plants require water, and water and electrical devices are not the most amicable of bedfellows.