FarmBot – Bringing Open-Source Technology To Agriculture

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FarmBot

One of the world’s oldest industries may well be on the way to an almost total revolution. FarmBot Genesis is now available to pre-order at $2,900. While it’s not the first piece of automated machinery capable of performing gardening- and farming-related tasks, its efficiency, low cost, and the possibilities for wide customization set it apart.

The machinery itself is basic: a multi-function mounted arm moves along a set of tracks that you set up in your garden. The arm comes equipped with a number of parts, including a syringe to plant seeds to the appropriate depth, a hammer to kill weeds, and a nozzle for watering the crop. You assemble the robot yourself, but according to the developers the process is straightforward.

FarmBot receives input from two sides. One, from the FarmBot app, which the owner uses to plan out their garden by means of an easy-to-use interface on which one can drag and drop crops into the desired positions. Two, from external databases which communicate information about the produce and weather forecasts.

The system uses a Raspberry PI computer, and the software is easy to install. So, almost the entire gardening process is taken care of by FarmBot. The owner is expected to assemble the machine. Then, install the software, input their gardening requirements, and also to provide water, power, and of course seeds and soil. (Though in fact, it’s quite possible to install solar panels and a water tank, thereby reducing the need for human interference yet further.)

Once assembled, you plan out your garden on FarmBot’s app and reap the rewards. FarmBot will plant the seeds, water the plants, and kill weeds. It knows how to plant the seeds and space the plants. It knows how much water each plant needs given the upcoming weather conditions. It can also identify and kill potentially destructive weeds. With FarmBot, even a diverse garden requiring frequent attention is easily taken care of.

What Can FarmBot Do For You?

Homegrown produce is becoming increasingly popular, but most people don’t have the time or the expertise. FarmBot is ideal for these people as it offers them the chance to eat fresh produce, letting technology do the hard part. Apart from the time freed up, there’s the money saved on buying fruit and vegetables. The makers of FarmBot claim that these savings are considerable. According to the producers, consumers can expect to break even on their $2,900 within five years (and the makers aim to reduce the total cost $1,000 over time).

Buyers can also save by putting together parts of FarmBot themselves, and this is what makes FarmBot so interesting. The technology is entirely open source. Smithsonian.com points out that, given the open-source approach, users can expect to be able to modify FarmBot themselves, add their own parts, and perhaps even build one from scratch. The possibilities are limitless: you can build a FarmBot any way you want, and in doing so you can considerable time and money over the long term (not to mention the health benefits of using homegrown produce).

The Future Of Farming

This site recently published an excellent piece on TensorFlow by Justin Reynolds. In it, he mulls over the exciting potential of Google’s open-source software library. In FarmBot we find the same principles in a more focused area. The whole project is open, so FarmBot can potentially be modified by anyone in any part of the world. These modifications can then be adopted by its users. A single innovation can help change the nature of gardening and farming all around the world. As technology in farming advances, the implications of the open-source FarmBot project grow ever more significant. As it stands, FarmBot is for gardening at home. It can only roam over an area of 2.9M by 1.4M and take care of plants up to 0.5M in height, but the potential for large scale projects is obvious.

Two years ago, the UK government set out a plan to invest 160m pounds of public funding in so-called agri-tech. At the time, some expressed skepticism regarding the use of robots on farms. Such a project, they said, remains years away. But in FarmBot we have a first step towards a sustainable, modifiable, and efficient means of farming. Some technology is already in use on farms. Many farmers now have robotic milking machines, and in South Africa and the US, drones are becoming more and more common on large farms. The cost-effective machinery and, more than anything else, the open-source nature of the FarmBot project point to a future in which the daily tasks of farming are no longer performed by human hands.

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