WINNERS ANNOUNCED: Hackathon to grow crops on Mars sees ‘duckweed’ take prize for best solution

PHOTO: Back row (L-R) – Judges: Andrew Scheurmann, Dr Ioana Cozmuta, Dr. Nate Storey, Jeffrey Law, Dr Rosie Bosworth, Greg Chiocco. Front row team ‘Just Food’(L-R) Michelle Jia, Wyatt Smith, Zandra Vinegar, Deger Turan and Santiago Perez.

8 November 2017, San Francisco, USA: Hackathon team ‘Just Food’ and their innovative solution for utilizing the aquatic plant duckweed, took the win Sunday night at the inaugural 2017 Autogrow #CropsOnMars Hackathon.

Global ag-tech company Autogrow acknowledged the solution was incredibly well thought out, achievable and original.

“The team did an impressive job researching how they could not only grow duckweed in a challenging environment but how it could realistically sustain life on Mars,” said Autogrow CEO Darryn Keiller.

“The judges all agreed that, while duckweed wasn’t the most appetizing food source, they couldn’t argue with the nutrient value or the innovative prototype of super thin LED lit grow beds they had created.”

‘Just Food’ and nine other teams hacked for two days on software, data or design solutions involving plant biology, controlled environment agriculture and the Mars environment. The judges looked for originality, sustainability, scalability and the potential for reproducibility on Earth.

Teams had the support of mentors and event organizers Autogrow and Silicon Valley Forum over the two days.

“I was privileged to be a mentor covering all aspects of plant biology and lighting. It was also great hackers had access to other mentors from NASA, IBM, Microsoft, Plenty, Orange Silicon Valley and Western Growers to name a few. And of course, the support of event partner Silicon Valley Forum who found a wonderful venue to hack. Like plants, people thrive in the right environment and we had a great growing environment,” said Autogrow Director of Crop Science and Agronomy Tharindu Weeraratne.

The race for the win was so tight that two teams took the runner up slot with one advocating collapsible growth chambers and the other a rapid deployable enclosure to be set up prior to astronaut arrival using robotic technology.

Mr Keiller noted that although teams were competing against each other there was an impressive amount of support for one another.

“The Hackers (predominantly millennials) gave us great hope for the future due to their creativity, their outlook to the future and to put things right for our planet’s ecosystem while meeting the needs of our growing population.”

“As organizers of the event, the most unexpected and visceral emotion of the collective teams was the spirit of unity around the daunting challenge we put in front of them. Here were people from perhaps 20 nations; students, startup founders, academics and business owners, all coming together to do something that was substantially beyond any one of them. The strength of their ideas was in their diversity as people and their willingness to collaborate.”

With the success of the inaugural event under their belt, Autogrow will announce new dates early in the year for the next #CropsOnMars hackathon, likely to be scheduled for late 2018 and held in Silicon Valley.


  • Wyatt Smith
  • Michelle Jia
  • Deger Turan
  • Santiago Perez
  • Zandra Vinegar


  • Dr. Nate Storey, Chief Science Officer – Plenty
  • Jeffrey Law, Chief Technology Officer – Autogrow
  • Dr Ioana Cozmuta, Industry Engagement, Commercial Space Partnerships – NASA
  • Andrew Scheurmann, CEO – Arch Systems
  • Greg Chiocco, Director of Product Management – Climate Corporation
  • Dr Rosie Bosworth, Strategic Communications – Sustain Ltd


  • Bilind Hajer, Data Engenieer – Product School
  • Tobi Ogunaikee, Software Engineer
  • Isabel Chamberlain, Compliance Specialist and Grower – Plenty
  • Akihiro Ishimura, Senior Consultant/ AgTech Expert – Fujitsu
  • Miika Mantyvaara, Global Marketing, Business Development and Innovation – The Vault
  • Robert (Bruce) Pittman, Chief System Engineer – NASA
  • Bilind Hajer, Data Engineer – Product School
  • Anna Propas, Software Engineer Lead Instructor – Coding Dojo
  • Juanita Dion, Software Engineer – IBM
  • Dennis Donohue, President at Royal Rose Radicchio – Western Growers Association
  • Ulrika Lidstorm, Research Scientist & Program Coordinator – Dupont Pioneer
  • Davies Odu, Software Engineer – Microsoft
  • Itiya Aneece, PhD Researcher – USGS
  • Hugo Wagner, Partner – Orange Silicon Valley
  • Erica Riel Carden, AgTech & FoodTech Advisor – Global Capital Markets
  • Davies Odu, Software Engineer – Microsoft



Don’t be afraid of the unknown

Hackathons can seem like an event only for those technically inclined but #CropsOnMars is like no other hackathon. It’s an event for ideation, creation and dreams.

It doesn’t matter if you have limited tech skills or even very little knowledge on growing crops – the best hackathons only need people who are enthusiastic and eager to explore and learn new things. You bring that and we have the rest covered.

Magic happens when people get together to brainstorm. We’ve got a great ‘crop’ of mentors and judges on hand to help guide and support the ideas that can form and if nothing else it’s an opportunity to learn something new.

The United Nations forecasts  the population of our planet will be  over 9 billion by 2050. I think we all need to be concerned about how we intend to feed that population and how we can sustainably do it without destroying our own habitat.

So for those dreamers who have ‘ideas’ but aren’t sure how to get them to grow – #CropsOnMars is exactly where you need to be 4th and 5th November.

If you have any questions we would love to hear from you. Contact us at 

Cheers and see you all soon!


Kylie Horomia
Head of Interplanetary Communications. 



Mars is getting busy!

The Mars team are welcoming two new mentors to support our hackers: Erica Riel-Carden and Dennis Donohue.

Erica is Principal at Global Capital Markets and has a huge wealth of knowledge when it comes to agriculture, food and technology and of course law.

Dennis Donohue is the Chief Innovation Officer for Western Growers. Those in the California region will recognise him as the former mayor of Salinas with 30 years of expertise in agriculture.

If you haven’t signed up to hack yet make sure you register now! –


Jay Onda and Hugo Wagner head to Mars

The dynamic duo of Jay and Hugo will be joining the Mars Team as mentors for #CropsOnMars Hackathon in November.

Jay and Hugo are part of the Orange Silicon Valley team and together bring a wealth of experience in technology, innovation and bringing visionary concepts to life.

If you haven’t registered to hack Mars get in quick as we have limited spaces.

Join us for a creative, innovative way to #Feedthe9billion.

– The Mars Team


Welcome Andrew Scheurmann to the Mars team!

Any great hackathon has judges and mentors to support the creative process. We are proud to announce Andrew Scheurmann has come on board as one of our judges.

Andrew is the CEO and Co-Founder of Arch Systems. Andrew has an amazing background in supporting IoT companies and also believes strongly in planetary ecology and making Earth a better place for everyone.

We love that perspective and welcome Andrew to help #Feedthe9billion through our #CropsOnMars Hackathon.

– The Mars Team

We’re hacking at COVO!

The great team at COVO – 981 Mission St, San Francisco – are opening their doors to host #CropsOnMars Hackathon!

If you haven’t been to COVO before this will be a great treat. It’s a warm and inviting space that will have all our hackers relaxing into the space and getting in touch with their creative thoughts.

With all of that energy in such a great space we’re sure that solutions will be made for growing crops in harsh environments – whether that’s a new design for a robotic worker, a mobile greenhouse solution or other incredible innovations.

if you haven’t registered yet to join the hacking make sure you sign up as we have limited spaces available.

If you have any questions feel free to get in touch with the team at  or message us on Facebook.

See you soon!

– The Mars Team.

Feed Earth by heading to outerspace


Here’s a thought – if we aren’t adequately feeding the current population on the planet of 7.5billion, how do nations intend to feed the estimated 9+billion in 2050?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while and the numbers have been mentioned often and at times have seemed like a massive insurmountable problem (which I don’t intend to solve by myself – although it would be great if I could). Of course it’s a complex issue involving a myriad of things including drought conditions, war ravaged territories, government action (or inaction in some cases), the high cost of housing combined with low wages and the rising cost of food production or food wastage in many countries etc… BUT I’m sure we could all agree that something needs to change.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who is a big inspiration for me, said “anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive.” So my aim is to be productive and think how my company can create solutions that could ultimately support feeding the world (a bold statement I know but why aim low?).

One of the things I’ve done with my team is create challenges where we set goals that seem almost impossible to achieve. What I’ve found is it provides an environment that pulls out the possible, the potential and the downright playful – it’s important when you’re working hard to have fun.

So, while channelling “Chris Hadfield” and pondering the challenge of feeding 9+billion people on earth I realised we should set a challenge that took us further afield – much further – all the way to Mars.

Some of the greatest minds in science and technology have spent countless hours and millions, if not billions, of dollars investigating the prospect of sustaining life on far off planets. Some may ask the question why we would then want to hold a hackathon for something that NASA and other space agencies are fully across and have been for decades?

One simple answer – why not?

Sometimes breakthroughs come from unlikely sources and new generations or new fields of study bring new perspectives. I’m always of the opinion that it doesn’t hurt to open the door, invite people to hang out, and see what creative minds can come up with.

In many respects the #CropsOnMars Hackathon is an idea incubator focused on increasing food production. We are inviting teams to come along and create original concepts that have the potential to become reality. The theme itself fits well with our industry – indoor agriculture – and the outcomes could play a significant impact on how we can tackle the harshest and ever evolving environments on Earth for crop production.

I’ve mentioned previously that indoor farming is the future and I stand by those words. Utilising solutions for AE (Augmented Environments) including greenhouses, hoop houses, container farms, bunkers, your spare bedroom, garage, mansion etc.. and empowering everyone to grow crops is really the only way we will be able to produce enough food. The United Nations has stated that globally we would need to produce an additional 50% in order meet demand by 2050. Existing growers in the current environment alone will not be able to meet that number, but we can’t let the seemingly impossible target be a roadblock.

The saying goes “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” I think we can do better than that and actually stop at the moon and keep going. We need to aim high to get the biggest return. Push ourselves to do, what may seem impossible, and what we can achieve can be legendary. I’m happy to jump in (strap a rocket on) and give it a go. Who’s with me?

Darryn Keiller, CEO Autogrow


Autogrow announces hackathon to grow crops on Mars

Global solution company Autogrow is bringing the world of indoor agriculture together with space exploration and creating a 2-day indoor ag hackathon.

Alongside event partner Silicon Valley Forum, the November hackathon will see teams create crop production solutions for the inhospitable Mars conditions.

“We believe if you can find a way to sustainably grow crops on Mars, you will be able to grow in some of the harshest environments on earth because, if you can grow it there, you can grow it anywhere,” says Autogrow CEO Darryn Keiller.

“With climate change events having a significant impact on food production around the world, we need to look at alternative solutions to feed the projected 9 billion people by 2050. We want to set the bar high and hope to get creative, unique and resourceful solutions that can be utilised for crop production regardless of location.”

Silicon Valley Forum are familiar with hackathons but this is the first time they have had a focus on the ‘red planet’.

“This is an innovative event with a very real and challenging goal and we are pleased to be hosting it with Autogrow in one of the world’s most technological hubs in San Francisco, USA. We are looking for a range of people from programmers to agronomists, scientists, data technologists, researchers and anyone else who has an interest in taking on a challenge to grow crops on Mars to register a team,” says Denyse Cardozo, Executive Director of Silicon Valley Forum.

Teams will be able to create software, data or design solutions for growing crops on Mars.

“We will be looking at originality, scalability, sustainability with regards to resource efficiency and whether it can be reproduced here on Earth. There will be a great panel of judges and mentors and we are lucky to have the partnership of Silicon Valley Forum who see the benefit in a hackathon geared towards indoor agriculture,” notes Mr Keiller.

More details on the Crops On Mars hackathon and to register go to