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Old MacDonald Had A FarmBot, I/O, I/O, I/O

“You kids these days don’t know how good you’ve got it. Back in the day, we had to actually get our hands in the soil and manually plant seeds, pull weeds, and water the garden. Nowadays, you just drag and drop your garden program routines from the safety of the couch, and let the FarmBot do all the hard work while you’re playing Pokemon Go.”

(Article by Derek Markham)

At some point in the future, advances in small-scale farm automation might be the cause of conversations like the above, but we’ll probably be safe for a while, as there most likely won’t be a mass adoption of automated gardening systems anytime really soon. Of course, that’s what they said about electric cars not too long ago, so I may end up eating my words in a few years, assuming the cost and complexity comes down enough that anyone can afford a robotic farming machine to garden their suburban backyards.

However, for now, the FarmBot team is looking to the early adopters and the tech-heads to further their dream of autonomous backyard farming, as the $3,000+ price tag isn’t nearly within reach of the average home gardener who’s looking to supplement their diet with fresh homegrown veggies for a few months of the year, just because of the initial cost alone. But like many a new idea, the FarmBot project may help spur a revolution in low-cost opensourcegardening automation, and could eventually enable the development of truly affordable and rugged outdoor growing system that integrates a host of ‘smart’ features for hands-off gardening. Of course, many of us enjoy growing our own fruits, veggies, and flowers at home for the sheer hands-on nature of it (well, that, and for the fresh produce), so perhaps projects like the FarmBot will be more likely to inform larger-scale farming ventures or high-density urban growing projects, such as shipping container farms, than they will the efforts of the average backyard gardener.

The FarmBot project, which has been under development for the last couple of years, includes a number of features that push all the right tech buttons, such as 3D printing, CNC technology, drag-and-drop interfaces, remote access and control via a smartphone app, open source, etc., and seems to be coming of age at an appropriate time, as interest in locally grown food is rising. And with its tagline, which calls the FarmBot Genesis “humanity’s first open-source CNC farming machine,” it’s likely to attract a fanbase of ardent robotics and gardening enthusiasts, especially with a pitch video like this:

According to the company website, FarmBot offers a number of benefits to owners, including:

  • Yield: By our estimations, one FarmBot Genesis kit (1.5m x 3m in area) can continuously grow all of the veggies for one person’s needs. This is assuming year-round growing.
  • Sustainability: FarmBot grown veggies create 25% fewer CO2 emissions than standard US veggies. Take FarmBot off-grid and it gets even better.
  • Cost: FarmBot grown veggies are significantly less expensive than veggies purchased at the grocery store. The return on your investment is estimated to be between three and five years.

The team has taken more than $813,000 in pre-orders, some of which were made at the initial $2900 price (25% off the MSRP of $3900), and a $3100 pre-order price is still in effect through mid-August, with delivery of the FarmBots expected to happen sometime in February of 2017. More info can be found at FarmBot.

I’m more than a little leery of $3000 farm robots that only cover 4.5 square meters of growing space, and while I applaud the effort, I’m inclined to think that weather and wear will take their toll on the FarmBot well before it pays for itself. But then again, I prefer the simple to the complex, and I like getting dirty — and most likely a little sweaty — when in the garden, so I’m not exactly the target market for this device.

What do you think? Is this type of home gardening technology a solution in search of a problem, or do you think it moves the needle significantly for local and homegrown food production?


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