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SUSAN the student-designed robot helps veggies rot

All over campus, people are catching wind – non-metaphorically if you happen to find yourself near Lehigh’s Community Garden -- of a Lehigh student team that’s changing the way our campus deals with organic waste, and developing technology to assist.

Team GR2OW – comprised of recent IDEAS graduate Tori Wiedorn ’12 and current students Ben Cicchillo ’17, Alec Entress ’16 and Aly Lang ’16 – is one of more than twenty student projects taking shape this Summer as part of Lehigh’s innovative Mountaintop Initiative.
The team is undertaking a feasibility study to analyze how to process campus organic waste into usable compost. Several times each week, they collect pre- and post- consumer food waste from a dining hall and an off-campus coffee house -- a total of about 75 gallons/week – and haul it to the community garden on Goodman Campus. The team then mixes it with wood chips and yard trimmings from the campus.

According to Alec, their budget couldn’t support purchase of existing technology to monitor the effectiveness of their composting methods -- so they developed their own. "We discussed the different talents of each group member, and decided we could make a system ourselves," he says.

The result is SUSAN (Sensors Using Sustainability Arduino Network), a modular robot that utilizes an Arduino microcontroller to consistently monitor temperature and moisture content of actively composting material. SUSAN then sends that data via the Internet to group members.

According to GR2OW, SUSAN’s open source design was a must, so that others could utilize and build upon their efforts. "SUSAN costs about one-eighth of that of similar systems available online," explains Aly. "It is also modular, so larger operations can have multiple SUSANS." The first design will monitor temperature and moisture content, and in Fall of 2014 a Lehigh engineering class will look tackle the challenge of programming SUSAN to also monitor oxygen content.

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