Combination Seed Dispenser and Planting Mechanism

Designers: Robert Dodson, Dongwoon Hyun, and Victor Lieu

Client Coordinator: Kimi Dew

Supervising Professor:  Kevin Caves and Richard Goldberg


Our clients are a number of individuals who require assistance in a greenhouse at Goodwill Industries. They perform a variety of tasks involved in planting and growing crops, and Goodwill donates the resulting produce to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.  The clients have either developmental disabilities or traumatic brain injuries, involving both cognitive and physical issues.

The staff at Goodwill Industries requested a system to help the clients with planting seeds.  The clients plant seeds in flats, consisting of 12 trays of 2×2 cells for a total of 48 cells per flat.  Each client seeds 2-3 flats per day, so the number of seeds planted is quite high.  The seeds are small and difficult to discern from the soil.  The disabilities of our clients result in difficulties with perception, dexterity, and focus.  The current method has staff members spreading seeds on a Styrofoam plate.  The clients then push the seeds off of the plate, and into the cells.  However, this method is imprecise and tedious.  Depending on the client, they have trouble with one or more of these tasks:  picking up the seeds; planting only 1-2 seeds per cell; and keeping track of which cells have already been seeded.  No current solution covers the entire breadth of needs for the clients.  Handheld seeders are available but often require greater dexterity than is available to our clients.  In addition, they fail to guide the clients so they can keep track of which cells they have already seeded.  Our system needs to help our clients with the seeding task, while also providing them with a sense of independence.



The combination seed dispenser and planting mechanism helps employees at Goodwill Industries to focus on and complete their task of planting seeds, while reducing frustration and fatigue.  It makes the experience of planting seeds enjoyable.  The Goodwill Nature Center Coordinator, Kimi Dew, was pleased with the outcome of our project, and particularly liked the bright colors of the neoprene, which significantly improved the contrast between the seeds and their background.  She stated: “Our participants have developmental and physical disabilities, which limits accuracy when we are seeding.  It also makes seeding frustrating for the participant and the facilitator because of overuse of seeds and inaccuracy.  The template seeder and dispenser were devised to help the participant partake in a detailed activity with accuracy and success, while allowing them independence.  It also works for a variety of seed sizes and a variety of disabilities and is appealing by texture and visual stimulation.  I am very happy with the project and the ease of operation and function.”


Our final design is composed of two main components.  One is a template that the clients place over the seed flat.  It is exchangeable between flats.  The second part is the seed dispenser.  It requires some setup by the Goodwill staff, and dispenses only a few seeds at a time.

The purpose of the template is to show the client the locations of each seed cell.  They load the template with seeds, and then push them through to seed cells below.  Each template is composed of two 11”x22” sheets of acrylic, with a sheet of colored neoprene sandwiched in between them.  The 3 layers of the template are connected together using 8 bolts and nuts.  The acrylic sheets have a 12×4 pattern of 1” diameter holes that line up over each of the 48 seeding cells.  There are also diaphragm valves cut into the neoprene sheets under each hole in the acrylic.  The diaphragm valve is an “X” shaped slit, which will hold the seed until it can be recognized by the client, who then pushes it through the valve into the cell.  The neoprene then reverts back, closing the valve.  Acrylic L-brackets are glued onto the edges of the template so that it stays in the proper position over the flat.

The clients can use the custom seed dispensers to distribute 1-2 seeds onto each hole in the template.  Its operation and appearance is similar to that of a syringe.  It is made of a PVC pipe cut lengthwise in half, with a loading hole drilled in on one side.  Next, we cut out a length of 0.2” thick acrylic with width equal to the outer diameter of the PVC pipe, and cut a 0.1” deep groove into one end, called the dispensing end. We glued the PVC to the top of the acrylic strip with the groove sticking out.  This is called the loading chamber.  We then cut a length of 0.1” thick acrylic, called the slide, with width equal to the inner diameter of the PVC pipe.  We drilled a hole on one end of the slide, with hole size dependent on the size of the seed to be planted.  A small piece of plastic is glued on that same end of the slide to act as a stopper.  The other end is slid up through the loading chamber.  A semicircle of 0.2” acrylic is glued onto the pipe on the dispensing end so that there is not a gap between the slide and the semicircle.  The same is done on the other end.

Finally, a small spring and a rubber stop are placed onto the other end of the slide to form the plunger.  Seeds are loaded into the loading chamber through the large hole, and a stopper is placed into the hole to prevent seeds from coming out.  The client uses the seed dispenser by placing the guide in the hole and pressing down the plunger.  After every hole in the template is seeded, the clients poke the seeds through the valves using their fingers.

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