FarmBot DIY agriculture robot promises to usher in the future of farming

FarmBot’s innovative home gardening robot is inching closer to its official availability, as the company has been accepting pre-orders since the beginning of July. The money is rolling in quickly for the California corporation — with only a few days left in the pre-ordering period, it has more than tripled its $100,000 goal, raising $351,330. To entice early adopters, FarmBot offered a 25 percent discount on each unit, shaving $1,000 off the price of the robot and bringing it down to $2,900. The company expects to ship this first round of July pre-orders in February 2017.

Precision farming has been hailed as the future of agriculture, sustainability, and the food industry. That’s why a company called FarmBot is working to bring precision agriculture technology to environmentally conscious individuals for the first time. The company’s first product — the FarmBot Genesis — is a do-it-yourself precision farming solution, that (theoretically) anyone can figure out. The system is already up to its ninth iteration, and the open source robot improves in each version thanks to input from the FarmBot community.

Agriculture is an expensive and wildly wasteful industry. The precision farming movement may not solve every problem the industry faces, but it does have a lot of potential to improve sustainability and efficiency. Before FarmBot, precision agriculture equipment was only available in the form of massive heavy machinery. Precision farming tractors used to cost more than $1 million each when FarmBot creator Rory Aronson first had the idea for his solution in 2011.

The FarmBot robot kit ships with an Arduino Mega 2560, Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, disassembled hardware packages and access to the open-source software community. FarmBot Genesis runs on custom built tracks and supporting infrastructure, all of which you need to assemble yourself. The online FarmBot community makes it easy to find step-by-step instructions for every single assembly process. There are even forums to troubleshoot installing a FarmBot in your own backyard. The robot relies on a software platform that users access through FarmBot’s web app, all of which looks a whole lot like Farmville, the infamous mobile game.

The physical FarmBot system is aligned with the crops you plot out in your virtual version on the web app. That’s how Farmbot can reliably dispense water, fertilizer, and other resources to keep plants healthy and thriving. Since it doesn’t require any delicate sensor technology, FarmBot is a cheaper solution than the industrial precision farming equipment on the market. And with its universal tool mount, you can adapt FarmBot to do pretty much any garden task you desire.

FarmBot is “coming soon” to Kickstarter, so you’ll be able to order and assemble your own farming robot in the near future. Some DIY knowledge is definitely required to put FarmBot to work, though. At the very least, you’ll need an Ikea-level ability to follow assembly instructions. According to the website, FarmBot Genesis was “designed to be a flexible FarmBot foundation for experimentation, prototyping, and hacking”. If any of those three things scare you, FarmBot may be an intimidating endeavor. But if you know your way around open source software and Raspberry Pi and Arduino platforms, a FarmBot in your backyard could change the future of farming.

Updated on 7-28-2016 by Kelly Hodgkins: Added information about pre-orders.

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