Monthly Archives: June 2016

Life Imitates Art: the Farmer ‘Bot

Readers of In the Shadow of Ares will recognize this invention: FarmBot is an open-source CNC farming machine  — it even resembles what I imagine the prototype of the farmer ‘bot at the Jacobsens’ homestead would look like:

The three-axis machine employs linear guides in the X, Y, and Z directions, which allows for tooling such as seed injectors, watering nozzles, sensors, and weed removal equipment to be accurately positioned. Impressively, FarmBot can cultivate a variety of crops in the same area simultaneously.

FarmBot is controlled via mobile device or laptop, while its web-based interface makes customizing your garden as simple as playing FarmVille. You can also build and schedule sequences by dragging and dropping basic operations, adjust the parameters to your liking, and save. Meanwhile, a decision support system adjusts water, fertilizer and pesticide regimens, seed spacing, timing, and other factors based on soil and weather conditions, sensor readings, location, and time of year. And of course, FarmBot can be manually operated in real-time as well.

I liked their term “precision agriculture” – we may have to adopt that for the name of one of the Martian startups.

Note that in the comments, they refer to using machine vision and grippers to weed the robotic farm – while that wouldn’t be an issue in Martian agriculture since weeds would not be imported from Earth, that same capacity gives the farmer ‘bot the ability (described in the book) to automatically recognize and prune unhealthy leaves/plants and to harvest produce at its optimum moment.

Now take this technology and scale it up to 20m-wide gantries hovering over kilometer-long fields, and mate it to automated fulfillment center pick-place robots in city-block-sized hydroponics installations, and you get the bubbles at the Green.