UH Mānoa Students Develop Space Travel Tool

May 12, 2019, 2:30 PM HST
* Updated May 12, 12:05 PM
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UH Manoa engineering students Preston Tran, James Thesken and Gabor Paczolay. PC: UH Mānoa, May 2019

An autonomous hydroponic growing system called “Box Farm” designed and developed by University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa engineering students may be an important tool for space travel someday.

The Box Farm team won first place at the UH Mānoa College of Engineering Francis J. Rhodes Montgomery innovation competition in April.

Plants thriving in the Box Farm autonomous hydroponic system. PC: UH Mānoa, May 2019

It is about to be tested at the NASA-funded Inflatable Lunar-Mars Habitat at the University of North Dakota from May 16 to 24, 2019.

The growing system is intended to cut down on the time researchers spend tending to plants in space.

Habitat administrators say participants have been spending an average of more than two hours a day caring for plants.

The engineering students designed and programmed Box Farm’s robotic arm. PC: UH Mānoa


Box Farm can also help to advance autonomous greenhouses for food sustainability on Earth.


The students’ research focused on robotics, image processing, sensor systems, botany, interplanetary communication and autonomy. They also designed and printed custom planters in 3-D for the Box Farm system.

The robotic plant growing module can be scaled up to take care of hundreds of plants, essentially automating the entire growing process.

The Box Farm system can seed, plant and monitor autonomously. PC: UH Mānoa, May 2019

“My hope and dreams for Box Farm is this becomes a platform for automated plant growing,” said Preston Tran, UH Mānoa engineering student. “And it can also not only help out in the aerospace side of things, but also help out in the science research.”


“Box Farm is important because we have to move towards a goal of sustainable agriculture and I think automated practices are the best way to do that,” said James Thesken, UH Mānoa engineering student.

“This will cut down on manual labor time and also increase the productivity of the crew, as well,” said Gabor Paczolay, UH Mānoa engineering student.

For a video of the project, click here.

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