System of Wireless Botanical Sensors

Designing a System of Botanical Sensors

Enabling novice growers to produce thriving plants


Thryve was cultivated from the Design Garage course at the Stanford University d.School (Hasso Plattner Institute of Design), which teaches students how to bring a product, service, or experience to market while taking them through the design thinking process. As a Stanford Affiliate, I had the opportunity to fully engage with the coursework and the team to develop Thryve. The idea for Thryve was born out of the team lead's research in agricultural technology. As a team, to make the project more manageable, we focused on a group of high-value crops: cannabis, saffron, and lavender. As the project progressed, we focused solely on legal cannabis since it was the most relevant and disruptive because of the policies and debates it sparked, especially in California.


Product Designer, User Researcher


Design Thinking, Prototyping


9 months

User Research

We started by interviewing potential users, legal cannabis growers both large and small scale, asking them about their day-to-day activities and how and why they immersed themselves in the profession. We also talked to organic farmers on growing techniques and their relationship with food, as well as NASA scientists using multispectral imagery to determine the ecological health of an area and individual plants. Our adventures lead us to UC Davis’ high-tech greenhouses which housed fascinating research on different types of crops and how data is informing the work.

Extracting Key Insights

From the variety of user interviews, we were able to obtain insights and better understand the thoughts and feelings of people in the profession of growing legal cannabis, and people immersed in the field of agricultural technology. We synthesized our findings into the following key insights.

Seamless Tech

Technology should enhance and optimize growth, not replace expertise. Data collected must also be actionable.

craftsmanship icon


Growers are students of their craft, scrutinizing and nurturing every single plant throughout its lifespan.

Peace of Mind

Growers need constant affirmation that their plants are thriving since they cannot tend to it 24/7.

Defining Our Point of View

Our insights then led us to our "How might we..." statement, which would springboard a multitude of potential solutions.

How might we provide growers with actionable insights about their crops so that they can ensure their crops will thrive?

After brainstorming and ideating, we landed at our potential solution we would test: A system of wireless botanical sensors that provide growers with actionable insights about optimizing the growth of their crops.

Brainstorming solutions led us to thinking about other areas we would have to address because of the legal grey areas of cannabis

Prototyping Our Ideas

To learn quickly and fail forward, we dove right into prototyping different aspects of the Thryve (formerly “Cultivus”) system based on the insights we drew from our user interviews and research. By prototyping and testing different aspects of the system, we were able to learn more about our users and debunk our assumptions. Our new learnings eventually led us to pivoting from a B2B model for large scale growers, to a B2C and Platform as a Service (PaaS) model for individual growers who grow their own medical cannabis.


I created storyboards to better understand how our product might fit into a grower’s routine. Storyboards were also presented to the class and our mentors to solicit feedback on our early ideas.


Combined with a voiceover, our storyboards were compiled into a video for easier distribution and a wider variety of feedback on our ideas.


Our hardware went through many iterations and collected three measures: temperature, humidity, and water level. These measures, when monitored, provide growers with actionable next steps.


Our mobile application focuses on the human interaction with the plants, physically and digitally. The application monitors the plants’ vitals and provides conversational feedback for the grower to act on.

Showcasing Thryve

Thryve made an appearance at Maker Faire Bay Area 2016 in San Mateo, California to showcase the latest prototype to interested growers. An ecommerce site was also set up prior to the event to test product market fit. During the event, we collected 22 pre-orders.

Photo of Kenneth at the 2016 Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA
Thryve's hardware and software prototypes on display for testing at Maker Faire Bay Area 2016

Logo and Branding

With our product now in the hands of users, we had time to focus on the visual branding of our product. Thryve’s brand focuses on the smart and professional. In designing the logo, I moved in the direction of a logo that embodies a human centered approach to cultivating a plant.

Exploring many ideas before coming to a final logo decision


Team Members

  • Dickson: Team Lead, Hardware, Prototyping
  • Alice: Business Lead
  • Eli: Strategy and Research Lead
  • Kenneth: Product Design Lead


  • David Kelley: Donald W. Whittier Professor in Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University Founder of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, Founder and Chairman of IDEO
  • Bill Burnett: Executive Director of the Product Design Program, Stanford University Adjunct Professor in Mechanical Engineering – Design, Stanford University
  • Erin MacDonald: Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University
  • Sean Follmer: Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University