NASA and the Soil Testing Kit by Wayne Shelley and Steve Richardson

Last fortnight, more than 9,000 people and 484 organizations from around the world came together in 83 cities across 44 countries to engage directly with NASA at the largest hackathon ever held. Volunteers ranged from graphics designers, hardware and software developers, school teachers, project managers, database engineers and scientists. Wayne Shelley and Steve Richardson, from our Nottingham office, are advanced GIS developers and part of the team behind our app production.... such as iGeology and mySoil..... here they recount the experience of the NASA hackathon.


We joined the ‘Soil Testing Kit’ challenge at the Met Office in Exeter with a video link to the Growers’ Nation team at the Google campus in London:

This challenge had several desired outputs:
  • Hardware development to automatically detect soil parameters
  • Apps to view and disseminate the results with other people
  • Guidance on how to test soil parameters

The Exeter and London teams created two different hardware devices:
  • In Exeter we hacked a cheap solar powered garden light to include a temperature, humidity and soil moisture sensor. These sensors were then connected up to an Arduino board and a Bluetooth transmitter.


  •  The London team created a similar sensor device but transmitted the data via SMS.

The Ardunio software was developed to retrieve values from the sensors and transmit the data via Bluetooth. Then an Android app was developed to retrieve this information and publish it to a database in the Amazon EC2 cloud.

Source Code available here:

Our team also included graphics designer Tom Rogers. He created some really nice instructions on how to collect pH and soil texture.

The ‘Soil Testing Kit’ won first prize at the London event and was Highly Commended at Exeter. A collaborative entry will now be entered into the International finals.

Well done everyone involved. We both had a great weekend.
Wayne Shelley and Steve Richardson