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ATU545 – Plant3r with Clifton Hartsuff and Lily Hunter

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guests:

Clifton Hartsuff – CEO and Co Founder of Plant3r

Lily Hunter – Chief Marketing Officer for Plant3r

 

Website: https://www.plant3r.com

Email: info@plant3r.com

Videos and More: www.shop.plant3r.com

 

Stories:

Inflatable Braille Story: https://bit.ly/3mFhEuq

Stanford Cane Story: https://bit.ly/3bGjswW

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If you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email tech@eastersealscrossroads.org
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—— Transcript Starts Here ——

Lily Hunter:
Hi, this is Lily Marie Hunter, and I’m the CMO of Plant3r.

Clifton Hartsuff:
Hi, this is Clifton Hartsuff, and I’m the co-founder and CEO of Plant3r. And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the Indata Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 545 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on November 5th, 2021. We’re really excited to welcome folks from Plant3r, that’s P-L-A-N-T-3-R, on to talk about some of the tools they have to make gardening more accessible. Let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
After all these months of lockdown, maybe you’re looking for some new podcast to listen to. Well, make sure to check out our sister podcast, Accessibility Minute, and ATFAQ, or Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions. If you’re super busy and don’t have time to listen to a full podcast, be sure to check out Accessibility Minute, our one minute long podcast that gives you just a little taste of something assistive technology based, so that you’re able to get your assistive technology fixed without taking up the whole day. Hosted by Tracy Castillo, this show comes out weekly.

Josh Anderson:
Our other show is Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, or ATFAQ. On Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, Brian Norton leads our panel of experts, including myself, Belva Smith, and our own Tracy Castillo, as we try to answer your assistive technology questions. This show does rely on you, so we’re always looking for new questions, comments, or even your answers on assistive technology questions. So remember if you’re looking for more assistive technology podcast to check out, you can check out our sister shows, Accessibility Minute, and ATFAQ, wherever you get your podcasts. Now, including Spotify and Amazon Music.

Josh Anderson:
For individuals who are blind or deaf-blind, refreshable braille displays can be really an outlet to the outside world. They really assist with access to phones, computers, and really anything where a standard keyboard could be used to enter information and receive information from a screen. Some of you don’t know what a refreshable braille display is. This is a device that usually has between 14 and, I guess, 80 cells. And what happens is information that is displayed on the screen is sent to this device and pops up as braille in these small, little, what’s called refreshable braille cells. They’re these little tiny plastic pins that pop up and spell out the braille on this display. An individual then drags their finger across it and can read what’s on the screen. So for an individual who’s deaf-blind and cannot hear what a screen reader is saying to them, it’s really great.

Josh Anderson:
For an individual who just happens to be visually impaired, it can also help because you don’t have to always have that voice feedback. You can read notes. You cannot have that voice feedback either disturbing your neighbors or for something you don’t want everyone to hear. Or if you’re just sick and tired of listen to that darn voice, you can have all this information come to you in braille.

Josh Anderson:
So these braille displays are an amazing accommodation. They only have really one main flaw, and that’s price. They’re quite expensive. And the more cells it has, the more expensive it is, and of course the more information you can get out of the more cells. For years and years, folks have been trying to make a less expensive one. And some of them have been able to make ones that are a little less expensive. It can still connect to everything, but really they’re still quite cost prohibitive for individuals. Well, I found a story over at Azo Materials, and it’s at azom.com. And it’s titled inflatable braille technology changes shape under user’s touch.

Josh Anderson:
So the story is about a Cornell University-led collaboration, that’s developed the first critical component for a technology that enables inflatable braille that changes shape under the user’s touch. The idea is that they’ll make something like an iPad or a Kindle, for individuals who are blind. So I don’t know if they’re going to kind of put this into a full braille display, like what we’re used to. It sounds like the actual idea is to put this a little bit more on the screen itself for a dynamic braille display for different electronics.

Josh Anderson:
It says in the story that essentially the system they made uses combustion to inflate silicone membrane dots that could someday serve as a dynamic braille display for electronics. So you think that’s changing the whole way that the braille display would work. I would definitely have some concerns. First of all, is what happens when I pop one of those kind of membranes or dots? Because I’m never ever going to know what letter it’s trying to make if I’m missing one of those. That’s another issue that we run into with refreshable braille displays a lot is, as soon as one of those little pins gets stuck, breaks, doesn’t work right, the actuator underneath it doesn’t work, they’re useless. Or at least that one cell is, because you’re never going to know what letter it’s making if that cell isn’t working correctly. But anyway, that’s something kind of down the road.

Josh Anderson:
This of course is a wonderful idea, and of course the hope would be that it’d be less expensive. It doesn’t talk about cost of course here, but it is a whole new way to use it. The story gets very, very technical in its descriptions of how this item will work and kind of what they’re working on. So I’m not going to get too awful deep into that, but I do want to bring it to everybody’s attention. Because again, this is an amazing accommodation that really has one of those huge price tags on it. And hopefully if there’s a different way to accomplish that same refreshable braille, maybe, just maybe, it can be a little less expensive. I’ll put a link to this over in the show notes, so that you can go and check it out for yourself.

Josh Anderson:
So another story about some technology in the works to help individuals who are blind or visually impaired, comes to us from over at sciencealert.com. And it’s titled, this $400 cane uses autonomous vehicle tech to help guide the visually impaired. And this talks about some students over at Stanford who are working on a new project to kind of improve the white cane that an individual who is blind or visually impaired would use for navigation. So the idea behind this is to use some of the technology that’s used for autonomous vehicles. So be that, LIDAR technology, GPS, accelerometers, a word that I can almost never say, gyroscopes, cameras, sensors, and other things, truly get a picture of the entire environment around an individual.

Josh Anderson:
And not only that, but on the bottom of it, as you kind of bring it back and forth as you normally would while walking, it actually has a little wheel that will pull you to one way or the other to try to avoid obstacles. And that wouldn’t just be obstacles that you would feel with the cane, because that would be a whole lot of technology to do what the cane already does, but other obstacles that maybe the cane can’t touch, to go ahead and kind of guide you out of the way of some other things that it’s able to pick up with all this different technology.

Josh Anderson:
Reading through it, of course this is something that’s still in the development phase, but it does say in some tests, the smart augmented cane increased walking speed for visually impaired volunteers by 18% without making them smack into a bunch more stuff. Because of course that’s not really helpful at all. So I really do like this story. And while we talk about a lot of technology on here that maybe never comes true fruition, I love that this great technology that’s going to be used in autonomous vehicles and then some other stuff, how it’s working its way into other fields, into other spaces.

Josh Anderson:
Artificial intelligence, of course. I mean, if we look at that, all the things that it’s done for object identification, for object character recognition, for all these amazing things that it’s able to do now, when that wasn’t its original reason for being. Now, this is the first time we’ve talked about LIDAR on here and how that can really help folks especially get around their environment, because this can actually sit there and kind of map that environment and relay that information back to an individual who may not be able to visually access the environment on their own.

Josh Anderson:
It says down here that for right now, this is still in the research phase and kind of developing prototypes, but the team has made their design fully open-source. So anyone with the necessary know-how and materials, which cost about $400, to build their own version of this smart cane and kind of gain more information and relay that information back to them. So I’ll put a link to this story over in our show notes, and who knows, perhaps this is something we’ll see on the market here, coming up before too awful long.

Josh Anderson:
Folks, well, it’s fall here in Indiana, and most of the crops in fields are being taken in. I thought that we’d talk a little bit about something that might give you just a little bit of spring fever, but also something that could even be done in the winter. Gardening. Our guests today are from Plant3r, and they’re here to tell us about some of their solutions that can make gardening a little bit easier and a little bit more accessible. Clifton, Lily, welcome to the show.

Lily Hunter:
Hi, thanks for having us.

Clifton Hartsuff:
Happy to be here.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. I’m really excited to get into talking about all your solutions and everything that you guys do. But before we that, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourselves?

Lily Hunter:
Sure. So I can start off. I’m Lily Hunter, and I’m CMO of Plant3r. I am a totally everyday mom of three, with a big background in marketing, who just happens to be obsessed with plants.

Clifton Hartsuff:
And I’m Clifton, I’m equally obsessed with plants. I happen to be more on the geeky side. So I got involved with Plant3r because I really wanted to help people plant as much as possible and lower all the barriers to doing the activity.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Excellent. Well, it sounds like you both found a perfect calling and a perfect place to be. So let’s just start off by talking, kind of in general, what is Plant3r? And for our listeners, just because I know this is kind of a podcast and you’re listening, that’s spelled…

Lily Hunter:
P-L-A-N-T-3-R.

Josh Anderson:
Perfect. Good. Yeah. I just want to make sure when people are looking for it, they find the right thing. So go ahead and tell us, just kind of in a broad sense, what is Plant3r?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Sure, Josh. So Plant3r is about food freedom. Our goal is to lower the barriers to basically everyone, so that they can grow a little bit more of whatever they like to. Whether that’s ornamentals, something indoors, or even just freedom to grow food for themselves.

Lily Hunter:
Plant3r is really interesting because it is a selection of products and services, software services, that really lower the barrier of entry to gardening, especially edibles. So people who have different abilities are able to work growing plants for the first time. People who live in cities and apartments have the opportunity to grow indoors. You can grow things off out of season, and we’re really educating the public on how easy it is to get started growing edibles, and showing them every step of the way how to do it.

Josh Anderson:
And that’s excellent. I know gardening can do so much. I mean, you guys mentioned, not only can you be able to grow your own food, but I mean, it’s relaxing. It’s a great thing to be able to do to just kind of relieve some stress and some anxiety. And I want to talk about the different kind of solutions that you guys have available. And Lily, just because you happen to bring this one up first, tell us about the Plant3r Mini.

Clifton Hartsuff:
Well, thanks Josh. Yeah, I’d love to share a little bit more about the Plant3r Mini. The exciting thing about it is it’s a vertical hydroponics kit that can be hung inside or outside. So you can hang it outside on a balcony, off of a porch, even on a post in your backyard. And it’s pretty revolutionary for two reasons. First of all, it grows 16 plants at a time. And second, it does not require any specific chemistry, which is unique to hydroponic systems. Normally these hydroponic systems require you to test the pH or balance nutrients, this doesn’t. You fill the nutrient reservoir, one time per month you’re going to dump it out completely and pour a new gallon of nutrients into it. And that’s just it. You grow vertically. It’s excellent for people that might have trouble reaching the ground, bending over, crawling around. So it’s very accessible.

Lily Hunter:
The other thing is that so many people who live in apartments and smaller units without the large external space, they may think that they can’t grow. They can’t do that. But because it’s not taking up the same square footage, or horizontal space, it’s a really great product for everybody.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. Well, you mentioned my next two questions. It was just, well, can it be helpful? But I can definitely see, because yeah, space is just a big one. Because unless you’ve got a pretty good size yard, and then have the right amount of shade, the right amount of sun, it can be a major challenge. Now, what all kinds of things can be grown in this?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Sure. I’ll jump in, Josh, and answer that one. So the main things that grow well in the Plant3r Mini are leafy greens and herbs. The way the formulation is for the nutrients, it is possible to grow fruiting plants as well, but it requires a lot of nutrients. So we definitely recommend, especially indoor growing, to stick with leafy greens and herbs. And honestly, if you’ve ever gone to the grocery store and took a look at the herbs aisle, I mean, they charge enormous amounts of money for those herbs. So having the ability to grow those right inside your home year round, and just clip them off the plants whenever you need them, is a huge time savings. Not only time, but massive money savings because herbs are quite expensive to buy in a store.

Lily Hunter:
Getting some of those leafy greens in your diet… A lot of us who don’t go to the grocery store every couple days, maybe you’ll make yourself a sandwich and you would put lettuce on it, but you don’t even think to because you don’t have it in your house. And so just having that readily available, garnishing your food with herbs, with fresh herbs, and also getting the leafy greens back in your diet, that helps immensely with nutrition. And it’s not something that’s going to go bad.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. And even talking more about accessibility, for some folks going to the grocery store all the time isn’t really an option. So being able to have that fresh stuff. And Clifton, you kind of brought up the problem with the herbs always being so expensive. And half the time when I’m at the store, they don’t even look good because they’ve been sitting there quite a while. Because they are so expensive, the people don’t buy them very often. So-

Lily Hunter:
And they don’t last very well, but they do when they’re planted.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, exactly. I can remember having basil out on my back porch and you’d forget to water and it looks completely dead. It rains and suddenly it’s beautiful again. But just the big difference of being able to use that, being able to grab it and just having it fresh all the time. It’s a totally different flavor and hopefully it’ll help people be able to cook a little bit more at home as well.

Lily Hunter:
Yes, absolutely. And I mean, maybe you’ll be encouraged to eat a salad instead of order a hamburger, if you have some beautiful romaine sitting in your living room.

Josh Anderson:
Yep. Well, I’m getting hungry now, so we’re going to have to move on to talk about something else a little bit. So you said this allows you kind of to be able to grow indoors. What are some of the advantages to being able to grow your own produce indoors?

Lily Hunter:
Oh, my goodness. Well, I mean in general, having plants in your home is so good for you. If you’re are surrounded by the plants and the kind of constant life of growing, I believe that, for me at least, it’s just a really therapeutic thing. But it has been shown to be therapeutic. And people with other abilities, there is plant therapy and gardening therapy and it’s something that, at least with my kids in their childhood development, we started really early and it helped them see the different science hands on.

Lily Hunter:
Then the thing that people often don’t think about is the fact that photosynthesis happening in your house is so good for your air. So because a plant is going to be taking the carbon dioxide out of the air and just putting clean, clean oxygen, that’s really good for the air and it can help filter a lot of things out of the air that we might not realize are there. There was a famous NASA experiment in 1989 that found that indoor plants can scrub the air of volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde and benzene. So a lot of the things that are coming out, VOCs that are in your home, the conversion from carbon dioxide into fresh oxygen really can remove VOCs from the air.

Josh Anderson:
So talking about the different solutions that you have available, you also have something called the Plant3r Tool, and I was really excited about this. Can you tell me about this tool?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Sure, Josh. So the Plant3r Tool is pretty interesting. It’s in prototype stage right now. We’ve got a few 3D printed prototypes for it, but it was essentially designed to eliminate bending over, crawling around on the ground. And it allows you to stand upright, drill down into the ground and plant and also weed without doing any acrobatics outside. So we’re still very much in the development stage of it. You can check it out on our YouTube page. You can also go to our store, shop.plant3r.com, and see some other videos of it working. We’d love feedback based on how it looks now. If you happen to be in the Washington, D.C. area and you’d like to do a user test, we’re very excited to do that as well. We’re doing our best to build it for people who really need it. So right now, user feedback is huge for us.

Josh Anderson:
Now, besides just the tools that you guys have, you also have a bunch of resources kind of available for individuals to help them with gardening on your website. Can you tell us about those?

Lily Hunter:
Sure. So we offer a number of products, but then what we are really concentrating on is building out the Plant3r Assistant. Now that’s going to be an app [inaudible 00:19:04], where it’s interactive as you’re going through your gardening. Since so many people haven’t been able to garden, or don’t have the knowledge on how to garden, especially indoors in the past, it really walks you step by step through the whole process in an interactive way. So it will send notifications, it will send time-based or daily-based reminders to you. But it also asks the questions about what you’re growing and really prompts you to walk you through like a mentor every step of the way, because it is a daunting process.

Lily Hunter:
I was talking to a neighbor who asked me, “How do you grow tomatoes? My tomatoes just don’t grow the actual tomatoes.” And I realized that she hadn’t pruned in between the fruits, and that’s very important. And she also wasn’t using the correct tomato fertilizer. And it was something where, if you don’t have someone walk you through that process, you just don’t know.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. And like everything, if you just look it up online, well, you have 25 different people’s opinions. So it can be hard to kind of tell which one, plus, where do they live in the country? Is it different? Is the soil different? Are all these other things kind of different? So really there’s so much, and I think that keeps a lot of people probably out of gardening. You start talking about soil pH and they just kind of zone out and quit listening, or at least I do, because it gets a little bit scary when you start thinking about that. So having all those tools in one place could definitely be a huge help.

Lily Hunter:
Well, sometimes there are wonderful books out there, but if you have a tool that’s interactive and can send you reminders… A book can’t raise its hand and say, “Hey, just so you know, you planted two weeks ago, you might want to add some more nutrients.” It’s almost like a social media where it’s interacting with you and getting your attention and letting you know what you need to know. There are fantastic books out there, but this is just something that keeps it in the front of your mind as you’re going through it for the first time.

Josh Anderson:
Very good, very good. Lily, Clifton, do you guys have a story about someone who you’ve kind of talked to who’s maybe used one of the tools or one of the other things that you guys have available, who’s been able to garden that wasn’t before?

Clifton Hartsuff:
As far as accessibility is concerned, having access to the Plant3r Mini, I can say that at least two or three of the sales that we’ve had so far have been a son or a daughter who has been buying these hanging vertical hydroponic kits, the Plant3r Minis, and giving them to a parent. So it definitely seems that having a system like this and provide some accessibility for older generations, that it’s recognized by younger generations. So they kind of instinctively know, oh, my parents would definitely, maybe not so much for me, but certainly my parents would really like the ability to be able grow vertically, to have something that they can just hang up and take care of. So I’d say that’s probably the closest that we have so far to customer testimonials.

Lily Hunter:
Sure. So we have been doing a lot of work with local farmers markets and having a lot of conversations about the barriers to entry and what people are intimidated by. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about why they don’t do this, especially if they’re really into the local food movement. And it’s something where, yes, it is just an accessibility piece and then it’s a knowledge piece. So if we get rid of that barrier through the work that we do, that is a huge opportunity. I mean, I think also we have people who have different abilities and people who are maybe having more pain as they age. They’re more likely to be in a small space. If you’re dealing with that, you can’t have a half an acre.

Lily Hunter:
I know I have a book called, Grow All Your Own Food In Half An Acre. Well, that’s just not reasonable for someone who is getting older. No, they’re going to downsize. They’re going to downsize to an apartment or a community or something like that, or just have a much smaller house. So if you take that, combined with the power of the Plant3r products and services or software, it’s really a great thing to kind of bring those pieces together so that they feel like they can do it without digging, without having a whole background and decades of experience growing a ton of their own food.

Lily Hunter:
It is simpler than we usually think, especially when you have someone mentoring you or showing you what to do. I know I’ve tried to do that with my kids and teach them all about the different foods that we grow, but unless you have that hand-holding you don’t… But we at Plant3r can be that. That resource and helper to help people get into this growing of their own food, really just by using the Plant3r Assistant and using some of our tools.

Josh Anderson:
And if folks do want to find out more about those tools, or use the Plant3r Assistant, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Lily Hunter:
Sure. So if you go to plant3r.com, we have a full shop where people can purchase the Plant3r Mini. We also are really looking for some beta testers. So certainly if you’re interested, give us a shout at info@plant3r.com, because we do really value the impact and understanding better how people are using these tools since we are very much still in development.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We’ll put all that information down in the show notes. Well, Lily, Clifton, thank you so much for coming on today, for telling us about all the great things that Plant3r can do. Not just for information, but also the tools that you have available to really make gardening a whole lot more accessible to folks, well, with disabilities, with special needs, with not enough space, not enough room, or like folks here in Indiana where gardening in the winter just becomes a little bit challenging. But thank you so much for, again, for coming on and telling us about all this great stuff.

Lily Hunter:
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having us. I think growing plants makes you happier, healthier, and it can be really therapeutic. So we’re really excited about introducing this idea to people all over the map in terms of ability.

Clifton Hartsuff:
Yeah, thanks so much, Josh. It’s been a pleasure.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If so, call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us a note on Twitter, @INDATAproject. Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation, or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com.

Josh Anderson:
A special thanks to Nikol Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the Indata Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners, or this host.

Josh Anderson:
This was your Assistive Technology Update, and I’m Josh Anderson with the Indata Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

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