What if you could grow food in your backyard with little to no understanding of gardening? A new robotic system may make this a reality for everybody. Farmbot Genesis is an open source, autonomous farming system that is supposed to fit virtually anyone’s backyard, greenhouse or rooftop.
The makers of FarmBot Genesis say it’s as easy to set up as furniture from IKEA and controllable with most devices. All you need is an ability to follow directions, an active internet connection, a power source, and water.
Built with DIY in mind, all the parts are interchangeable and easy to find. You can even custom create parts via 3D printing. Advanced modification and scalability are encouraged. For example, you can mount lighting to FarmBot, and the built-in power source can be adjusted to support off-the-grid farming when minimal electricity is available.
Sensors make it possible to leverage real-time data about soil. Additionally a camera monitors plant health—when it detects weeds, it removes them autonomously. Offering a huge list of mods and add-ons—from rainwater collection to compost to resource management—there’s a lot of customization possible.
Besides the tech itself, the device incorporates weather and plant data online. Using OpenFarm, an open-source database for farming, a gardener can choose a growing guide for whatever crops they desire (and even create guides themselves). After selecting the growing guide and providing seeds, FarmBot does the rest.
Yet one critically important feature is missing: insect and critter management. Perhaps a later iteration or user-created add-on will address this in the future.
Imagining a Farmbot future, Brad Templeton writes: “For the non-gardening gardener, you would just order cartridges online with seeds, nutrients or weed killer, plug them in and let it run. Then eat whatever is at the peak of flavor. The app could also arrange trading with neighbors — everybody likes being generous to neighbors with home produce.”
To date, agricultural automation has mostly been aimed at industrial farming. FarmBot, however, targets small-scale or urban farmers. It’s a way for the inexperienced to get in on the game too much as hydroponics has helped people break into gardening.
“We want to empower people to grow their own food, so confusing them with advanced mechanics is not the way to get there,” said Rory Aronson, co-founder of FarmBot in an interview with AgFunderNews. “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.”
It’s a great idea, but FarmBot’s success will be demonstrated once it hits backyards. Pre-orders should ship by early 2017. If there are no delays or other complications, we should hear first-hand reports of FarmBot by the spring growing season.