Smartphone-controlled hydroponic garden gives you green thumbs

The automated Niwa hydroponic grow box makes a gardener of just about anyone.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read


For those of us with black thumbs, hydroponics can be a bit of a daunting prospect. However, if you can get it working, you can grow fresh, chemical-free fruit, vegetables, and herbs right in your own home.

Niwa, two years in development, aims to take the guesswork out of hydroponic gardening by automating pretty much everything about the process, only needing you to provide basic information about the plants themselves.

"Niwa uses a number of sensors and actuators to create a perfect environment for your plants to grow healthy and strong," the San Francisco-based team wrote on the NiwaKickstarter campaign. "She controls the temperature, humidity, and light cycles and her automated irrigation system will also water and feed your plants whenever they need it -- giving you get better results and complete peace of mind."

The Niwa includes a hydroponic system with water level control, a heater, smart lighting, ventilation and humidity control to maintain a perfect environment for your plants. Because different plants have different needs, it also features a number of presets for common plants, including fruits, such as tomatoes and strawberries; vegetables, such as lettuce, cauliflower, and peas; herbs, such as basil, mint, and parsley; and even flowers if you prefer a more decorative garden.

Although these functions are automated, the system does require your help to monitor plant development, which is often gauged visually. For instance, you will have to let the system know via the app when the plant is flowering, but the app (for iOS and Android) will prompt you to answer these questions, making the process as smooth as possible.

You can even watch your plants sprout and grow, since the system operates via Wi-Fi -- and for more experienced gardeners, there's still the option to manually control the Niwa's environment.

Niwa will be available in two sizes -- a smaller one for herbs and small plants, and a larger one for more ambitious gardens -- available for minimum early bird pledges of US$249 and US$299 respectively. Head over to the NiwaKickstarter page for more info and to pledge your support.