Precision farming applies techniques from various fields of engineering to increase crop yields, especially in large fields. Utilizing geographical information, precision farming optimizes different farming processes. Modern farming employs high-precision positioning systems, such as GPS, to drive the agricultural vehicles with an accuracy of 2cm within the field.
The concept of using autonomous robots in fields is an interesting idea which is increasingly attracting more attention. The 2016 AgBot Challenge is an example of an attempt to develop such unmanned seeding robots. Many sponsors such as Yamaha, AGCO, and John Deere have an eye on the outcome of challenges like this. Considering the 24/7 farming capability of these autonomous robots, we can obviously achieve a remarkable return out of these machines. In addition to autonomous seeding, other farming functions such as autonomous harvesting and removal of weeds and pests are also topics of interest.
Although effective and perhaps indispensable in a near future, precision farming solutions are expensive and can cost more than $1 million. Therefore, these machines and techniques are inapplicable in home gardening.
At least, until recently.
FarmBot, a recently established company, has introduced the first open source farming machine which applies the techniques of electronics engineering to your backyard garden. The small-size precision farming solution of this company, called FarmBot Genesis, is capable of planting seeds, watering, weeding, and more.
FarmBot Genesis utilizes the linear guides in X, Y, and Z directions along with image processing to precisely locate the plants and weeds in the garden. The three-axis robot works in a way similar to a CNC machine, however—instead of carving different shapes, it performs various farming functions.
Using a software with a game-like interface, you can drag and drop the desired plants anywhere on your garden map. After you decide the graphical layout of your garden, the robot will take over the subsequent plant care tasks for you. You can use any device to control and configure your FarmBot: desktop, tablet, mobile phone, etc.
The FarmBot software with a game-like interface. Image courtesy of FarmBot.
FarmBot uses a 3D-printed part called a “seeder” to pick up the desired seeds and put them in the soil.
3D-printable parts that can be used for seed injection and watering. Image courtesy of FarmBot.
In addition to the seeder, the robot has other parts such as “water”, “soil sensor”, “weeder”, and a camera. These parts can be automatically mounted to perform different tasks.
Other parts that can be mounted to the FarmBot. Image courtesy of FarmBot.
The robot waters exactly the spots where the plants are located. Not having to soak the entire garden with water, the farming machine efficiently waters the plants. The FarmBot Genesis uses the weeder to suppress the weeds into the ground so that they cannot thrive.
Being an autonomous tool, FarmBot is suitable for the group of people who would like to produce their own food but are discouraged by the trouble of manual labor.
The company has started taking pre-orders since July. While FarmBot predicted a $100,000 pre-order, FarmBot Genesis has proved to be much more successful with a sale of over $813,000 so far. With a 25% discount, the company is offering each FarmBot Genesis at a price of $2,900, set to ship early 2017.
The First Open Source Farming Machine
The FarmBot Genesis went through 10 previous iterations before evolution into its present version. All of these versions and their improvements over the previous designs are available on the company’s website. This is one of the most important features of the FarmBot Genesis: the source of all its documents, both hardware and software, are available online.
The company actually pursues something more than an open-source product. Rory Aronson, founder of FarmBot, not only shares the source files but also discusses all the steps of manufacture as if he intends to give a tutorial on how to build FarmBot Genesis.
Being a do-it-yourself project, you can easily improve any part of this robot. The website actually lists several improvements for you to try such as adding lights or weather sensors.
In order to support a thriving global community which will dramatically change food production worldwide, Aronson shares assembly instructions, bill of materials, previous versions, troubleshooting, and more.
This attempt to make FarmBot accessible to the masses is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the device because it reveals Aronson’s admirable vision for this project.