Aug. 20, 2014 | By Alec

While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you enter a supermarket in the western world, many experts agree that it will become increasingly difficult to feed the world's ever growing population in the not too distant future. The farming industry will need to greatly increase both production levels and productivity to keep up. Luckily, California-based engineer Rory Landon Aronson is working on solution to do just that. And what's more, it uses existing technologies, it will be flexible, adaptable, will not require hard manual labour, is not harmful to the environment and is even open-source. His solution: Farmbot, a farming machine made from a 3D printer.

To be fair, Farmbot is not exactly a 3D printer, but it is very similar to CNC milling machines and Carthesian 3D printers. As Aronson describes it in his white paper, 'FarmBot is an open-source and scalable automated precision farming machine and software package.' It consists of a scalable frame that employs X, Y, Z directions just like a 3D printer, but can instead be outfitted with sensors and any other device necessary to optimize farming output, like seed injectors, plows and water nozzles. For example, using an Arduino and Raspberry Pi, the FarmBot tool head can be precisely positioned for a variety of operations such as soil preparation, seeding, watering, fertilizing, weed control, and data acquisition.

Farmbot is operated with a web-based software package that is described as 'simple, scalable and hackable': it is easily modified to accommodate any type of vegetable, farm size or technique. The user-friendly software aims to cover the whole spectrum of food production, from minimalizing costs and maximizing proficiency to the actual planting, selectively watering and harvesting of the vegetables themselves.

The following is a sample of intrinsic advantages of FarmBot that make it a superior system to conventional methods and technologies.

  • Ability to plant polycrops in a machine efficient manner
  • Ability to optimize operations such as watering, spraying, and seed spacing
  • Full automation and 24/7 possible operation
  • Virtually unlimited farm design possibilities
  • Incorporates "Big Data" acquisition and analysis for data-driven decision making and "Smart Farming"
  • Ability to plant in the most space efficient layouts
  • Scalable from a backyard system to an industrial operation
  • Allows for the democratization and decentralization of food production
  • Free and open-source, fully documented, hackable, and accessible

A sneak preview of FarmBot watering the soil very precisely

Farmbot is thus effectively using 3D hardware and modified software to drag the agricultural sector into the next century. And all of it is open-source. As the creator explained: 'The vision of this project is to create an open and accessible technology aiding everyone to grow food and to grow food for everyone. The mission is 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 first thought of this revolutionary device in 2011, while studying Mechanical Engineering at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. It came to him while learning about a new tractor that could selectively destroy weeds while leaving other plants intact. 'Upon seeing that idea, a spark went off in my head for a system that was better, and that was the humble beginnings of FarmBot.'

Progress was slow in the following years, but went into overdrive in 2014. The past months the project began to take shape. Hardware and software is being constructed, while Aronson just started a Kickstarter to develop OpenFarm, a comprehensive and free database of farming knowledge to allow his machine to access necessary practical data. Farmbot itself is aiming at a crowd funding campaign in early 2015. This very practical application of 3D printing technology could thus be begin to tackle one of humanity's most basic problems in the coming years.

See Aronson discuss his Farmbot in detail at TEDxUCLA:



Posted in 3D Printers

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Wild Bob wrote at 8/24/2014 9:19:30 AM:

Well it was this or a Frisbee catching dog

farmer joe wrote at 8/21/2014 3:35:43 PM:

why is this on 3ders????

Bri wrote at 8/21/2014 1:52:14 PM:

So aside from planting seeds I'm not getting the practicality of this thing.

Mike Hunt wrote at 8/21/2014 3:18:50 AM:

Say goodbye to Agricultural jobs bot.

jonathan wrote at 8/21/2014 12:41:11 AM:

i believe this machine would be useful for vertical farming projects



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