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Cal Poly grad’s FarmBot uses app-powered robot to plant produce

Posted at 4:43 PM, Sep 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-23 19:43:25-04

The Cal Poly graduate who created an app-based farming tool just shipped out hundreds of orders around the globe, giving people the technology to grow fresh produce without getting their hands dirty.  

FarmBot, which was recently featured in Forbes Magazine, is an open source technology that pairs allows a smartphone app to operate a robot.

The device can plant and water seeds, power a camera to check in on growth and even operate a sort-of garden bouncer to kick out the weeds.

“I have cabbage, corn and tomatoes growing,” FarmBot developer Rory Aronson said.

Aronson’s garden, which features four FarmBots, is in full bloom. But he never actually got his green thumb dirty, though he did use both thumbs to tell FarmBot what to do.

“It’s the smartest farmer of all time,” Aronson said. “It uses sensors to learn about the soil and plants in the environment in order to plant smarter over time.”

It’s everything a good gardener would do if only there was enough time.

“A lot of people like the idea of fresh veggies grown in their backyard, but they’re not willing to put in the time required to make that happen,” Aronson said.

Over 800 FarmBots have been sold around the globe to average citizens and farmers alike, but Aronson said what surprised him is that half of his customers have ended up being in the education sector.

“It’s being used as a teaching tool,” Aronson said.

The app, which closely resembles and was actually inspired by Facebook’s once popular Farmville, is a lot like a game, except when you move a tomato onto the grid, it actually starts to grow in real life.

And just like other smartphone apps, FarmBot updates and the device gets smarter over time.

This farming robot, which costs $2,500 for a small FarmBot and $3,800 for the large, does it all except harvest.

“We don’t want to completely disconnect people from the garden, we do still want people to go out and harvest,” Aronson said.

If you don’t know how or when to harvest, FarmBot sends push alerts to the user’s smartphone when produce is ready for harvest.

Aronson said the future of FarmBot is emphasizing the plan in planting. The goal to be able to provide FarmBot a list of desired ingredients that it can ensure are ready to harvest by a specific date.

“Say I want to throw a BBQ on the Fourth of July, so I want to make a salsa then,” Aronson said. “Plant my garden in advance so I have tomatoes, cilantro, peppers and whatever else for a salsa to be ready on the Fourth of July.”

It’s the ultimate party planner and produce planter, taking the guesswork and the actual work out of the garden.