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Robotics Earth Build Technology

Open Source Gardening Robot 'FarmBot' Raises $560,000 80

Slashdot reader Paul Fernhout writes: FarmBot is an open-source gantry-crane-style outdoor robot for tending a garden bed. The project is crowdfunding a first production run and has raised US$561,486 of their US$100,000 goal -- with one day left to go... The onboard control system is based around a Raspberry Pi 3 computer and an Arduino Mega 2560 Microcontroller. Many of the parts are 3D printable.
Two years ago Slashdot covered the genesis of this project, describing its goal as simply "to increase food production by automating as much of it as possible."
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Open Source Gardening Robot 'FarmBot' Raises $560,000

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  • ...Many of the *plants* are 3D printable..."

    Now I'm hungry again.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Saturday July 30, 2016 @04:48PM (#52613921)

    FarmBot... For Gardeners Too Lazy To Garden (TM)

    • Re:FarmBot (Score:4, Interesting)

      by caseih ( 160668 ) on Saturday July 30, 2016 @05:47PM (#52614127)

      Not at all. The ideas behind farmbot include precision planting, precision watering, and the ability to more easily weed since you know exactly where the plants are. All of these things are increasingly important in agriculture. why are they important? Well precision planting allows mechanical weed control, and it also means water need not be wasted where there is no plant planted. Think of it as drip irrigation without the hoses and a lot more precise.

      When it comes to precision planting, that's actually possible on a large scale right now, almost to the same precision the farmbot can do. I've seen 40' wide corn planters that can place a seed to within an inch of the same spot year after year (if that's what you really wanted to do). Rows of corn are perfectly spaced so that the plants are exactly the same distance apart. Automatic section control means there is absolutely no overlap even when driving back across already-planted soil. It's pretty remarkable!

      The farmbot idea is very interesting and I'm following it as it progresses. At present I cannot see it scaling beyond small garden plots. And even if you just scale it by putting in lots of small plots, there is an energy cost there to running these robots. There's an energy cost to conventional farming of course, but the carbon cost of mechanically removing all the weeds at a large scale is often far more than using herbicide.

      That said, the farmbot is very cool and I think it will turn out to be really productive for some kinds of food growing, such as your garden. You joke about being too lazy, but the fact is, most people simply don't have time to properly tend a garden so most don't, even those that would kind of like to. This would allow folks to grow their own food. That alone is a good and educational experience to have. I've often thought agriculture (even gardening) and computer nerds are a good fit. Technology really can help us get a little bit back to nature and having our own fresh food from time to time. Of course then people would have to relearn how to cook again.

      • At present I cannot see it scaling beyond small garden plots.

        Farmbot doesn't scale because it uses a gantry system. In order to scale, you have to use a more flexible technology, such as wheels.

        • by caseih ( 160668 )

          Yes, that's true. And conventional ag is going down this route. I mentioned precision planters. A lot of research right now is going into various forms of mechanical weed control, and also very precise weed control, like computer vision driving herbicide application. And variable-rate irrigation (using pivots that are suspended water wipes that drive around on wheels!) is starting to become a focus as well. Remote sensing can help decide how much water should go on and where, greatly increasing efficien

        • they really need a farmbot-weeder on wheels for major farms to remove weeds instead of using too much weedkiller
      • It may work, but the average small gardener can probably do a better job of growing veggies in small raised beds. Most gardeners I know grow things because they love it. They love the feel of the soil and getting their hands dirty. And their gardens usually are about the size of half their backyards. This "robot" seems to be somewhat limited in the size garden it can tend. One person can very easily tend a garden of 100 feet by 100 feet. With a little more effort one person can tend to an acre or more. Add
        • by tbuskey ( 135499 )

          I have a 20' x 50 plot and work for a living with kids. Garden maintenance time is limited and sometimes gets skipped.

          I have drip irrigation on an automatic timer. It will water in the morning when I'm at work or on vacation. I don't have to remember.

          I'd love something automated that could weed, pick off pests, chase away things that eat my plants while I'm at work & at night, tell me when I have to harvest the lettuce before it bolts/gets bitter, wind the tomato/squash/beans/peas/cucumber onto verti

      • Farmbot is bang on the mark https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] From Satellite to Soil - Professor Simon Blackmore The Royal Society
        Admittedly the latest agricultural robots are on wheels but the research is being done on static beds - so why not develop and test a vision assisted laser weeding head on Farmbot? Come on Slashdot, this thing is the prototype 3d printer of the agricultural future. Some people will go on from this to start a billion dollar company that puts Monsanto out of business. 99% reduction

      • by vlad30 ( 44644 )
        Even those that do have time such as retired/pensioners may not be able to garden due to various reasons. Look around and its easy to spot the houses where once proud gardeners live the gardens have not been properly cared for for a while. This would extend their enjoyment and may give some slashdotters a side job setting them up. Personally I'm all for this kind of robotics that removes the menial and repetitive work. Note I know this isn't free-form gardening yet but it is a start and more practical produ
      • We already use a gantry type system for watering plants on farms. Its called center pivot irrigation. With some redesigning of that system, you could expand this to a full scale farm within a few years of testing.
      • by tbuskey ( 135499 )

        Not at all. The ideas behind farmbot include precision planting, precision watering, and the ability to more easily weed since you know exactly where the plants are. All of these things are increasingly important in agriculture. why are they important? Well precision planting allows mechanical weed control, and it also means water need not be wasted where there is no plant planted. Think of it as drip irrigation without the hoses and a lot more precise.

        When it comes to precision planting, that's actually possible on a large scale right now, almost to the same precision the farmbot can do. I've seen 40' wide corn planters that can place a seed to within an inch of the same spot year after year (if that's what you really wanted to do). Rows of corn are perfectly spaced so that the plants are exactly the same distance apart. Automatic section control means there is absolutely no overlap even when driving back across already-planted soil. It's pretty remarkable!

        Planting evenly in rows helps at all scales. In a garden, it means you can run a wheel hoe in between the plants and cut the weeds. On a larger scale, you tow a cultivator behind a tractor to to cut weeds. A nearby CSA uses a 1930's tractor & cultivator setup. Farmbot is scaling down from that.

    • Re:FarmBot (Score:4, Funny)

      by mfh ( 56 ) on Saturday July 30, 2016 @05:57PM (#52614181) Homepage Journal

      FarOutBot... 420-blaze-it (Coming Soon to Colorado and other legal-ish places)

    • One cannot help but wonder if the FarmBot folks should think on a 1 acre scale. I think laser positioning would be helpful with this. I did like the solution to weeding; just poke the weed into the ground, cool.
  • Seems like any time I see a crowd sourced idea that makes good $. Then goes belly up before production and someone walks away with a bag ($ on the side) full of cash
  • I, for one, welcome our new garden-tending robot overlords.

    No seriously, this could be a good thing. I like how precisely it plants and waters each seed. That could produce high efficiency.

    • I like how precisely it plants and waters each seed.

      Actually, the way it waters - as well as the way it weeds - makes me think the kid who designed it isn't a gardener.

      It appears to be top-watering the plants frequently. Most gardeners know that, if you top water (say with a sprinkler), you want to be careful about both the timing and the frequency - otherwise it's an invitation to all sorts of fungal leaf diseases. If you're interested watering precisely for weed control or water conservation, drip irrigation systems are a much better (and much cheaper!) so

  • and does a lot of gardening, this seems...impractical(?) at least at this stage.

    Planting seeds? I plant literally a couple dozen square meters in minutes and while spot watering/fertilizing may be slightly more efficient in watering over a sprinkler, it's not going to do much over a buried drip system. And almost all of the time gardening (>99%) is spent on weeding which is not even a problem on a raised bed/processed commercial setup as this. Also not addressed (because it looks like they use pre-mixed

    • It gets even worse because from the video I saw you had to switch out the nozzles, so you would have to wait around for it to finish or come back at a later time.
      This looks to be just a flashy device that does't do much and cost wise you would not recover the money.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Unless you're a total spaz you can grow more than that manually with less combined time than even putting the damned thing together.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Saturday July 30, 2016 @05:07PM (#52613985) Homepage

    I have looked at this several times. No way this thing can survive being outside 24/7/365. It's not waterproof where it counts, it needs a whole lot of refinement to make it to an actual 1.0 release device that can last outside through all types of weather for at least 3-4 years. The gantry is not self cleaning or sealed in any way, same for the tracks.

    It's a great idea. and a fantastic early beta. but they need some industrial robotics guys to show them how to make it survive weather.

    • by mfh ( 56 )

      We have a lot of rabbits living around our neighborhood that have destroyed many trees and gardens.

      They would probably chew this robot and attack the garden daily unless..... I wonder if the company will create a defensive mode for this? Strobe lights and water or air gun could blast animals breaking the perimeter?

  • Research arm of NASA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by waveclaw ( 43274 ) on Saturday July 30, 2016 @05:13PM (#52614015) Homepage Journal

    I hope this thing is happy being fueled by cheap polluting sources and doesn't clog much. Just with clean water the current politics of 3rd world nations makes access to fuel sources difficult. But it could be very useful to roof-top first-world herb gardens and space travel.

    One common plan to colonize Mars, the Moon or various science fiction worlds starts with dropping of robots and letting them build the infrastructure. Then all you need to send humans is a fancy taxi with some really good entertainment for the long trip. One problem facing these plans is that the cost estimates. One NASA plan to research, develop and implement the robotic parts of a farm on the Moon has a literal Moon-shot price.

    Yet here we are in the age of Kickstarter and Indiegogo funding where the key parts of a space colony are being invented one piece at a time.

    Let's just hope that nobody decides to take the money and go build a house with it instead. That would be just Peachy.

  • by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Saturday July 30, 2016 @05:14PM (#52614021) Homepage Journal

    Can it farm raspberries? And can it bake pies?

    • I grow and harvest raspberries and constantly think, is there anyway I could teach a robot to do this and sadly the answer is no. Tomatoes maybe, but raspberries are a literary a pain as they try and stab you while you pick them with their little barbs. They are also hard to find and ripen over the course of weeks. Then they are very delicate. If you squeeze to hard, squish. If you shake the plant, many will fall off. If you try to pick on that isn't ripe you will tear off the branch.

      If someone has a R

  • Most of their video was about how you can do lots and lots of work to put it together and get it working properly. It would take way less time to just study gardening on the internet and tend your own garden, or less money to just buy the food. They know this, which is why they emphasize and re-emphasize having perfect control over how your food is grown. I don't know bout you but I couldn't give a toss what soil moisture my lettuce had between days 2 and 10 of growth.

    Don't get me wrong, I love the can-do
  • by starless ( 60879 ) on Saturday July 30, 2016 @05:21PM (#52614041)

    If it's not mobile it seems to be very expensive to just plant seeds and water an extremely small area.
    The seeds could probably be planted more quickly by hand than the time it takes to program the machine
    to do it.
    And then using it for watering seems overkill. Even if you want to automate watering I see automated sprinkler
    systems available at amazon for a couple of hundred bucks.
    So it looks like the machine would spend most of its time just sitting there not doing anything.
    I suppose the weeding is somewhat useful. But again it's a very small area.
    Or am I missing something obvious?

    • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Saturday July 30, 2016 @05:57PM (#52614177) Homepage

      Or am I missing something obvious?

      I don't know if it's obvious, but the missing thing is that this won't be the final word in automation of home agriculture.

      I remember back when the first PCs came out, and they were rather ridiculous -- the amount of time it required to get them to do anything useful was such that it would almost certainly be easier to accomplish the same task with pen and paper, or with a typewriter.

      But a certain type of person was drawn to them anyway, not because they were immediately useful, but because that person wanted explore what was possible and see how much further the ideas could be taken. And now, 40-some years later, we have inexpensive PCs and cell phones that are much more powerful than any other method, to the extent that most people wouldn't even consider handling most problems the "traditional way" as a realistic approach anymore.

      Or, as Ben Franklin put it, you might as well ask, "What good is a newborn baby?"

      • This isn't even the first word in farm automation. Not by over 100 years, even with the addition of a microprocessor. Others have been doing it far longer and better and if you're the least bit familiar with farm tech I don't know what their point is other than to 'take back the food' whatever that vapid statement means. I'm sure it resonates with some group of clueless people.
        • by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Saturday July 30, 2016 @07:10PM (#52614497) Homepage Journal

          This isn't even the first word in farm automation.

          It's the first word (or close to it) in small-scale home garden automation. Traditional farm automation is all about scale, enabling fewer people to farm larger areas effectively. This isn't that. This is about enabling lazy/busy people to grow a highly-effective garden in limited space and with limited attention -- and probably limited understanding of how to do it. You don't have to learn how to care for different types of food plants, you can instead rely on software configuration provided by others who do know, and you don't have to go out and work in the garden every day.

          'take back the food' whatever that vapid statement means

          Yeah, that part is pretty silly.

          However, I like homegrown veggies but I'm too lazy to garden. I don't mind planting or harvesting, but the daily regimen of watering and weeding is too tedious for me -- but I do like automation, tinkering and I have disposable income. I could see myself buying one of these.

        • by Copid ( 137416 )
          "Take back the food" is just a restatement of the usual cultish obsession with "clean" and "holy" food that's not touched by evil corporations. You're a Bad Person if you eat food grown on a farm and sold in a grocery store. You're a Good Person if you grow food yourself, because you're sticking it to The Man. For some reason, nobody looks down on me because I think it's a waste of time to make my own shoes and outsource the job to a company that specializes in it. They even *gasp* ship the shoes from s
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      You're probably not missing anything.. but when I compare this to say $2000 robot lawn mowers which I see quite a few of here in Norway I could imagine a vegetable patch robot pulling it off with the "I'd do homegrown organic but I'm too busy" crowd if this makes it easier to grow lots of different vegetables and herbs and whatnot that have different needs and won't mind if you go on vacation. This looks like a bit too much DYI though, I was thinking more like you put a seed bag with a QR code in a slot and

    • You're completely right, automated watering and monitoring has been done before (mostly as a fun arduino project). A better idea would be create a modular system to monitor and water your plants using drip-hoses, sensors, and a webcam connected to an intuitive app/website. In any case, I feel that hydroponics is a much better option for growing a small amount of veggies / greens at home (more easily automated and controlled).
    • Don't underestimate the cost of water lost to evaporation. Sprinkler systems are hugely inefficient, especially in more arid climates where, coincidentally, at least in Northern America, most your food comes from. Quite conceivably, "precision watering" could save enough water to cover the cost of the electricity. Future models could easily use existing technology to extend the same watering strategy over a larger area too, and for infrastructure costs that could easily become cheaper at scale than sprin

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Can none of these hipsters run a lathe or a milling machine? Can no one measure, or make a part square or plumb?

    • The parts you are talking about need injection molding. Making the molds would probably be cost prohibitive to the project. I am sure they could be machined, but then they might get too heavy for the gantry.

      • And to add to the confusion, I recently used some nice wall-mount brackets for iPads.

        These were not injection molded, per se. And they weren't 3D printed.

        These were milled from thick, injection-molded plastic. The tool marks were obvious on the hidden side of the thing.

        So now, we've got one more method to produce low volume parts to consider.

        Discuss.

    • Can none of these hipsters run a lathe or a milling machine?

      Why? Because it is supposed to be hard? For most of the parts they are making, 3D printing is superior in every way. Less material, less time, less training, less effort, less waste.

      Disclaimer: I know how to run a lathe and CNC milling machine, and have a Sherline in my garage. But I also know how to select the right tool for the job.

  • Interesting that it needs to be internet connected as well to run the planting. I could see this for keeping a running total of people using the farmbot bust just registering something would have been fine. "Internet â" FarmBot can only be programmed and controlled using the web application, meaning an active internet connection is required to send and receive data."
  • ... either I'd be one of the millions who didn't get a spot in a Vault, or I'd most likely be a feral ghoul. And while Super Mutants have green thumbs, they also have green pinkies, green hands, and green faces.

    Or, you know, the atom bombs would knock me into an entirely different dimension where the Mr Handy was never invented.

    Besides, it's a good 60 years to 2077. I'd be dead of simple old age, if I wasn't ghoulified.

  • Rather than pay $3000,
    Can I just download the plans for this open source farmbot and build it?

    If not, which parts are open source, and which are not?

  • by TFlan91 ( 2615727 ) on Sunday July 31, 2016 @06:22AM (#52615767)

    Obvious question....

    Can it grow weed?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Damn. Killer feature. Throw some of these in a basement warehouse somewhere with grow lights and not come back until harvest. A drug grower's dream.

  • At the cost it currently sells for [farmbot.io] (i.e. just under $3000 and apparently $4000 once the 25% off offer runs out), I doubt that it's gonna be a smash hit in the developing world. Obviously currently aimed at the first world, where food security is arguably a non-issue.

    BUT: many low-labour, water-saving and biomass-recycling manual gardening methods do exist and do feed people with abundant, nutritious and fresh produce. Even in the third world, believe it or not.

    Targeted watering seems to be this robot's ma

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