Now you can buy a robot gardener that will fill your garden with gorgeous fresh organic produce, without you even having to go out in the damn rain and do anything! It’s the lazy gardener’s dream come true!
By Nicole Buckler
Welcome to FarmBot. If you love growing your own vegetables but don’t really have it in you to keep it up properly, then this farmer robot exactly what you need.
Not only can you buy this magnificent robotic beast for your garden, the blueprints are open-source. What that means is that the design is free, so you can build one yourself, saving a lot of money. If not, the purchase price is predicted to be around €1000 for the average consumer. If you buy one, the FarmBot gets sent to you in bits, so you’ll have to put it together. But initial reviews suggest that construction of the FarmBot is easier than your standard Ikea item.
The FarmBot project was started in 2011 when Rory Aronson – a mechanical engineering student at California Polytechnic State University – attended an elective course in organic agriculture. There he learned about a tractor that used machine vision to detect and cover weeds. This removed the need for herbicides to kill the weeds, or manual labour to pull them out. It was genius… but the tractor cost over one million dollars.
The cost of such a great farming breakthrough put Rory in a spin. The world’s population is expected reach 9 billion by 2050. No one is sure we have enough food for everyone. So, growing our own stuff in our own gardens will go a long way in aiding this mission. But, we are lazy, and our attention to detail wanes quickly. And then we get distracted and go do something else, and our potato crop dies. But having accessible tech do the work for us makes it easy for the lazy gardeners amongst us to stay the course in growing their own produce.
So, Rory and some pals came up with the FarmBot and got some funding to manufacture it. The FarmBot works just like a dot matrix printer. It sows seeds in rows and knows exactly where every plant is, from the start, so it can detect any interloper weeds quickly. Pretty much, anything that isn’t the official plant is pushed back into the soil by the robotic arm. This farming robot is able to plant over 30 different crops including potatoes, peas, squash, artichokes and chard in an area of 2.9 meters × 1.4 meters. It can cultivate a variety of crops within same area at the same time. It is able to operate indoors, outdoors and in covered areas. A FarmBot placed inside a greenhouse can allow year-round growing, which is perfect for colder, wetter climates like ours.
It is estimated that the FarmBot produces 25% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than standard food production. The robot does require electricity, an internet connection and water supply. These all can be provided using off-grid solutions. A water barrel can collect rain. And, a solar panel and battery can provide electricity. The FarmBot then uses the web to gather data about local weather conditions, among other things.
You, as an owner of FarmBot, can control your robot gardener slave on just about any internet enabled device. The app that goes with the FarmBot is like playing a game… such as Farmville… with real-life results. You can “plant” seeds via a drag-and-drop action. You can also control the water, fertiliser and pesticide, and seed spacing via the app. The app can even email you when your crops are ready.
There could come a day when this type of robot farmer could replace actual farm workers. FarmBots are also more precise with water and fertilisers. Without the need for tractors, then farmers would not have to plant produce in wide rows to make way for tractor wheels, so crops could be grown closer together, resulting in a higher yield.
While the idea of having a robot farmer slave is totally awesome, this does mean that our relationship to the land becomes very distant. But let’s face it, most of us don’t have a good relationship with the land anyway. So no change there. Just think, we could all have our own robot farmer within ten years or so. And the robot farmer might even be dating the laundry robot! We can only hope…