When Rory Aronson was studying mechanical engineering at California Polytechnic State University, he attended an elective course in organic agriculture where he learned about a tractor that used machine vision to detect and cover weeds, thus eliminating the need for herbicides or manual labor: the tractor cost over $1 million dollars.
Inspired by a new vision for agriculture automation – and the DYI/Maker movement – Aronson published a white paper outlining the goals of a project to “Grow a community that produces free and open-source hardware plans, software, data, and documentation enabling everyone to build and operate a farming machine.”
Aronson began working on the project full-time in 2014 thanks to funding from a grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation, aided by a firmware and software development team. This summer, Farmbot.io began taking preorders of the first commercially available version of FarmBot, the FarmBot Genesis, the ninth iteration of the design, an automated system that can plant, weed, and grow vegetables organically.
In the All About Circuits interview below, Aronson discusses Farmbot’s fruition from his fertile imagination to the field.
Engineer Spotlight: Rory Aronson of FarmBot
By Robin Mitchell – All About Circuits
FarmBot is an automated system that can plant, weed, and grow vegetables organically.
Early man has farmed the land for the past 20,000 years. Humans have transformed the land and grown many different plants, allowing civilization to flourish from farming communities into cities.
Millennia later, farming has gotten some incredibly high-tech advances. However, it still requires a large amount of human interaction and oversight.
But the FarmBot team may be changing that. Using CNC technology, generic modules, and some clever programming, they’ve designed a system that automatically grows vegetables of your choosing.
This device can plant seeds, remove weeds, water plants, and even help to regulate soil conditions so that your veggies are just right. The FarmBot can also be taken off-grid with solar panels and water collection system so that the environmental impact of electrical use is negated.
The FarmBot is designed to be customizable and accessible to the maker community. Its design is based on generic devices such as:
Here at AllAboutCircuits, we have interviewed the creative team behind this innovative blend of technology and machinery to get a better understanding of what FarmBot really means for the future of farming.
Q & A with Rory Aronson, Creative Director for FarmBot
AAC : Was there ever a Eureka moment for FarmBot or was it an idea that evolved over time? What was that process like?
FB: The Eureka moment was when I realized that a typical CNC machine (3D printer, CNC router, laser cutter, etc.) could be adapted to growing food in a precise, completely computer-controlled manner at a relatively small scale. Once that idea was validated as feasible, the rest of the hardware and software developed over time while I wrote the initial whitepaper.
AAC: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in designing FarmBot?
FB: Our biggest challenge is bringing the cost down while maintaining hackability of the system. It\’s easy to make an inexpensive product that does a specific function; it\’s hard to make an inexpensive platform that has the potential to do a lot of things.
AAC: Now for some planting-related questions! How does the CNC heat cope with different seed sizes? For example, a marrow seed is very large as compared to a carrot seed.
FB: We’re using a vacuum-based planting system that suction-holds seeds at the end of a precision 3D printed tip. This means that with sufficient vacuum power we can have a very small orifice (smaller than the smallest seed) and still be able to hold very large seeds as well.
Read the full interview: here