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Open source bot plants, maintains your garden when you can’t

In the front yard of Rory Aronson’s San Luis Obispo home (that he shares with 9 roommates), a robot is tending his garden- seeding, watering, weeding and testing the soil- while he controls it from his his phone or computer. FarmBot is what he calls “humanity’s open-source automated precision farming machine”.

As a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo he was inspired by a guest lecture in his organic agriculture class, “when a traditional farmer came in talking about some of the tractor technology he’s using on his farm and I looked at that and said, ‘Wait a minute, I can do that better’, explains Aronson. “The first thing that I thought of when I thought of the idea was, ‘Oh this probably exists let me go look it up’ and I scoured the Internet. I was amazed actually, that there was not a CNC-type farming equipment already existing so I said, well, I guess it’s up to me.”

During the summer after graduation Aronson wrote a white paper to outline his ideas and within days he had the attention of “software developers, open-source enthusiasts, ag specialists, mechanical engineers, and more”. After several years of iterations and a crowdfunding campaign that has raised over a million dollars, the FarmBot team (Rory and programmers based worldwide) will release the FarmBot Genesis in early 2017.

Using an Arduino and Raspberry Pi, FarmBots are “giant 3D printers, but instead of extruding plastic, its tools are seed injectors, watering nozzles, sensors, and more.” If you want to print your own, the specs are all free and open source, but if you’d rather buy an all-inclusive kit, it will cost you $2900, a number Aronson says will come down with time. He sees it as a long-term investment. “Because it’s so based in software, all of the functions, it will get better over time so even if you bought a kit today the hardware won’t change, but the software will allow it to do more and more things over time”.

“My long-term vision for FarmBot is that it’s a home appliance,” explains Aronson. “Just like everyone has a refrigerator and a washing machine and a drier maybe you have a FarmBot too and in the backyard doing it’s thing and it’s like a utility that you use. You turn on the water on your faucet and water comes out, you go out into your backyard and there’s food that’s been grown for you.”

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  • Robert Howes

    Rory, I want to develop circular farmbots. I thought up the Farmbot idea as you have it now in the early 70s but never made one. Shortly after I thought it up someone else did too. The people at Hesketh Bank government research station built one. It was built in a greenhose but I can find no info on it now. My version was to be the width of a two acre field. I still hope to make those but now I am leaning more towards circular ones, with or without raised bed. The advantages include swinging around a central post. If made out of strong materials it could support the person doing the harvesting. The name I chose at the time was the Growbot. I would still like to use that.