Farmbot: A Do-it-yourself Open Source Farming Robot

Farmbot: A Do-it-yourself Open Source Farming Robot
Image: The Tribune

At first glance, it’s easy to come away with the belief that entrepreneur Rory Aronson is doing it all wrong. Most inventors in the agricultural field develop new technology for giant, mass-production operations with an eye on making a personal fortune. But with FarmBot, Aronson has created an open source DIY precision farming process for the individual.

“My drive in establishing this company is not profit, Aronson said in a recent interview with agfundernews.com. “Everyone eats, so everyone should have the ability to grow their own food, with a little help.”

To be fair, FarmBot represents more than just ‘a little help’. It’s a complete robotic farming system that can be operated by any home computer or smartphone. The robotics hardware runs on rails above a standard backyard or rooftop garden plot. The user chooses which crops they want to plant and where and FarmBot does the seed-sowing, watering, soil-moisture measuring, and even weeding. It has a universal interchangeable tool head that allows it to switch functions as needed.

Aronson came up with the idea in 2011 as a response to the incredibly wasteful food production process that is modern commercial farming.

“After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, I decided I wanted to reinvent the way food is grown in order to adapt to the growing use of technology in people’s lives. When I thought about rebuilding the agricultural process, a robot is what I pictured. It is quite literally a robotic device that someone can control through their smartphone or laptop. It’s simple enough to use in your home but sophisticated enough to adapt to a larger scale.”

One of the more remarkable aspects to this system is that it is not patent protected. Aronson chose to make it open-sourced so engineers, software developers and inventors of all kinds can expand and improve on it.

“By making our growing guides as well as the specs to build a FarmBot totally open sourced, we’re acknowledging that we think we’re doing it the best while still being open to improvements entirely. If someone can do it better than me, I welcome that because that will push our mission and technology forward.”

For such an intricate robotics system, it is very user-friendly, even for the most novice gardener. The web-based interface looks a lot like the popular game Farmville, with a drag-and-drop capability that allows you to design your garden right there on the screen. The current system has 33 different crops from which to choose and through its precision farming technology, it will automatically space them for optimal results. You can access the app from any computer, smartphone or tablet.

Aronson designed the FarmBot system so that it can be customized to connect to a solar power system or collect and distribute rainwater. Really, there is almost no limit to how this base system can be expanded upon as more users come on board.

Of course there has already been much speculation about what impact this can have on the under-nourished parts of the world but Aronson says eliminating world hunger, while a lofty goal, was not the intent behind FarmBot.

“We are focused on anyone who wants to grow food in a way that requires less energy, less transportation, and hopefully less water and time. Having FarmBot is essentially giving everyone an extra set of hands — and if you have hands, you can do anything.”

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