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FarmBot: an Open Source Automated Farming Machine 133

Posted by Soulskill
from the rise-of-the-technofarmer dept.
New submitter ErnieKey writes: Farming has been stuck in a bit of a rut, when compared to other industries. Businesses across the globe have been innovating for decades, while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago. The FarmBot Foundation is creating a machine, similar to that of a CNC mill and/or 3D printer, which is capable of being run by sophisticated software and equipped with any tools you can imagine, including seed injectors, plows, burners, robotic arms (for harvesting), cutters, shredders, tillers, discers, watering nozzles, sensors and more. The goal? To increase food production by automating as much of it as possible.
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FarmBot: an Open Source Automated Farming Machine

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  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @01:04PM (#47705053)

    Make a GardenBot that works, and you'll become a trillionaire.

    • by Qzukk (229616) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @01:10PM (#47705127) Journal

      You could name the first ones Huey, Dewey and Louie.

      • A post from me to comp.robotics.misc in 1999 about Silent Running drones which spawned a thread with 32 messages:
        https://groups.google.com/foru... [google.com]
        ---
        Anyone remember the drones (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) from the sci-fi movie Silent Running?

        Some links: ...

        They have always captivated me, and were an early influence in getting me interested in robotics and AI.

        I particularly liked the scene where all three worked together to perform a medical operation.

        I've long wanted to build some robots like these for gardenin

    • by Anonymous Coward

      1. don't disagree, if i'm thinking of a small scale 'farm bot' that would appeal to yuppies...
      2. i'm not getting some of the concepts here: they're going to have fields with these rails running up and down them for miles ? gee, i bet those are cheap and don't need any maintenance at all...
      3. not sure what the whole picture is, but are they replacing cultivating and harvesting machines ? if NOT, then those rails are going to be a bitch to navigate around with big farm implements; not to mention when the rai

      • Bots easily run on wheels these days lol Also they have Very cheap "rail" systems these days that can even be made out of plastic/wood. What about the food prices this could help lower them. What about all the farmers that get sick? The list goes on innovation isn't something to turn away... Even if it doesn't succeed new tools will stem from this area. Automation is coming fight it all you want...
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by ShanghaiBill (739463)

        6. say, i've got an idea, why don't we put some of the MILLIONS/BILLIONS of un/underemployed people to GOOD WORK and have THEM be 'farmbots' ???

        If the unemployed were willing to be farm laborers, then they wouldn't be unemployed.

        • The robot could lay down enough rails in front of it to move in that
          direction, then pick them up and move them along itself. I think I saw this
          in a claymation movie once. Nick Park?

    • Forget the garden, I'll settle for a cheap, effective automated lawnmower! Currently, they're all high-priced for cutting dozens or hundreds of acres. Yet, most of them still can't tell when they're about to run over a poor baby rabbit...
    • Except of course this thing is not even a robot, not a '3d printer', as far as I can tell its just a collection of hype terms and a dream (I suspect) of being showered in free funding to play with.

      It is a simple computer controlled gantry, of the types common since the 80s.

      And this is progress? really?

      I wonder if they know that fully automated gps tracked tractors have commercially existed for over 10 years.

      What a f'ing joke.

  • not true at all (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @01:10PM (#47705121)

    Businesses across the globe have been innovating for decades, while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago.

    That's not true at all. Maybe in some hobby farms, but at a large scale (which is where most food actually comes from), farming in 2014 is nothing like farming in 1914. Modern agribusiness is highly automated, which is why the proportion of the U.S. population engaged in farm work has declined from about 30% to about 2%, while food production has increased.

    • by Nutria (679911)

      Damn, you beat me to it...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Businesses across the globe have been innovating for decades, while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago.

      That's not true at all. Maybe in some hobby farms, but at a large scale (which is where most food actually comes from), farming in 2014 is nothing like farming in 1914. Modern agribusiness is highly automated, which is why the proportion of the U.S. population engaged in farm work has declined from about 30% to about 2%, while food production has increased.

      Agreed. I think we've proven in our throwaway culture in the US that food production levels are not low. Not anywhere close. And thus this is likely yet another solution without a problem. Then again, so is a internet-connected toaster, but it's coming. This particular Thing may plow fields instead of reporting server thermals, but it doesn't make it any less Internet Of.

      • Re:not true at all (Score:4, Insightful)

        by plover (150551) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @04:03PM (#47706775) Homepage Journal

        And thus this is likely yet another solution without a problem.

        No, I think the desire here is for it to be Open Source. Current agricultural tools are proprietary, where you pay a ton of money for the special GPS receiver, arrays of sensors, a database of moisture, fertilizer, and yield readings, continuously variable spray systems, auto-steering systems, and everything else.

        The current systems are brilliant: they can reduce fertilizer usage by 60% or more by applying the proper amount of fertilizer on the areas that need it. This reduces cost, excess chemicals, and greatly reduces polluting runoff. They also measure how much water the crops need, and adjust irrigation accordingly. And in a greenhouse, they can even measure and control the light.

        But all of that is not all that difficult to solve, apart from the hardware. Makers are getting pretty good at producing open source hardware for a lot of smaller things; and there is a desire to get open source solutions in the hands of the developing nations.

        So I think there's a lot of problem out there that this could yet solve.

      • by Jeremi (14640)

        And thus this is likely yet another solution without a problem.

        I think there's definitely a market for this. For example, I'd like to have a nice vegetable garden in my back yard, but I don't have the expertise or the free time to do the work necessary to keep it healthy and happy. If I could buy a FarmBot at the local Home Depot, set it up, press "Go", and not worry about it until harvest time, that would be a pretty tempting prospect. And once the technology got cheap enough and reliable enough for most people to afford and install, anyone with some land could eas

    • Re:not true at all (Score:4, Informative)

      by rogoshen1 (2922505) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @01:41PM (#47705417)

      Yar, and i'm guessing here without actually looking it up, there are already harvesters/combines that are GPS guided.
      And after googling: Yup.

      So we've got plants that since the 1960's are genetically altered (via splicing as well as breeding programmes) to grow shorter, develop more seeds, innate resistance to pests (grumble monsanto grumble grumble). Combines that literally drive themselves, fertilizer has been 'improved' (altered is maybe a better term?) to the point were god knows how much of it is is natural occurring vs petroleum based.

      Products like this (while cool) are caught basically without a market. The mega farms which could use something like this, already have their own versions. The smaller farms, can't afford it.

      And (yep, gonna get modded troll for this) we have a virtually unlimited supply of cheap labor from Mexico to do the grunt work.

      • No, you're wrong. We have a Mexican labor SURPLUS, not an unlimited supply. It is, in fact, artificially limited.
      • I would still like to see a fully automated farm, that requires no labor except robot maintenance. Robots to till the soil, plant the sides, harvest the crops, process them, load them on to automated trucks and ship them off to market. That would be amazing. I think a stable society in the future is going to depend on "free" food. There simply is not enough work for everyone to do, so we have massive unemployment and underemployment. We're eventually going to have to let go of the idea that you have to have

        • by jfengel (409917)

          Even if it's produced with zero human labor, the price isn't going to be free. There already is practically zero human labor in the actual growing of food. The process is heavily automated already. The consumer price is dominated by the various middle men (distributors, shippers, retailers, etc.) The actual farmer receives less than a dime for each dollar you spend. Far, far less for prepared foods.

          If you're willing to cook, you can buy more than enough raw ingredients to feed yourself quite well, for well

      • by perpenso (1613749)
        There is much room for improvement. For example some fruits are harvested by a vehicle that deploys nets under a tree and shakes the tree. A more robot device that has a visual system to identify fruits that are at the proper ripeness for harvest and then selective collects them with an arm may be an improvement. Now consider such a device that is autonomous. Such a system may also be used with fruits and vegetable that are still harvested by hand.
      • No longer.

        My wife's uncle until recently had a series of Apple Orchards in Michigan, with the processing plant on the same road. For years, it's been seasonal labor harvesting apples, and the orchards selling to the plant.

        His orchards are now plowed under because he can't compete with China. Apparently China can ship Apples to the United States, have them offloaded from a boat, trucked to Michigan, and delivered to this processing plant cheaper for less money than it costs the orchards across the road to

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You can actually tighten that gap up even more. Farming today is nothing like farming was in the 1980's. I left the farm in 1983 and knew every piece of equipment, top to bottom. Last year I was asked to move a tractor to a different part of the yard and I couldn't figure out how to start it, much less drive it, without being shown. We didn't have GPS guided tractors or combines. We didn't even have monitoring systems in the "brand-new, high tech" hog feeding barn. The closest thing to automation we h

      • If your main tractor breaks down you can still run the combine. If your disc needs repair, you can still plow or use the tillage unit. Putting it all in one machine would mean you are down when any one thing breaks.

        I actually understand it more as unification in type rather than calling for people only having a single physical device. What prevents you from having two of them? Give it sane mechanical and electrical interfaces, and a single chassis could be specialized if needed (but not unless necessary).

      • Farming today is nothing like farming was in the 1980's. I left the farm in 1983 ...

        That's about the time my university got its first microcomputer lab. The lab was put together by the agriculture department. Mostly Apple //e. Apparently there was a lot of farm management and planning software in existence. And I'm not talking financial accounting. Thing like planning crop rotations, planting, harvesting, watering, minimizing fertilizer and pesticide use, etc.

        I was a CS major but I helped them set up the lab so they let me use it.

    • Don't be put off by the clueless submitter. This is actually a really cool project that goes way beyond existing types of automation. This quote, for example, gives a sense of the kinds of things they're trying to enable:

      The tremendous potential that FarmBot creates, allows for many new methods of farming, including the ability to create “polycrops” which mix and match different crops, unlike methods seen on typical farms.... Traditionally this has been impossible, as each different plant species requires different care techniques. For example, some crops require more water than others, while some crops require water at their stalk, rather than at their base. Some plants require more or different types of fertilizers than others. FarmBot’s software makes this process extremely simple, as each plant can virtually be programmed for their individual needs.

  • by raymorris (2726007) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @01:10PM (#47705129)

    > Farming has been stuck in a bit of a rut, ... farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago.

    Apparently this author's understanding of agriculture is based on cartoons. Self-driving cars are a brand new thing; largely self-driving agricultural equipment is not so new. Have a look at the cockpit of a modern John Deere in working trim. Better yet, come on down to Tecas A&M (agriculture and mechanical) and we'll show you some things. It's no coincidence that A&M is a leader in drone research too.

    • by MacTO (1161105)

      Even as an outsider, I heard about many of the advancements cited in the article. However, I wonder if the project's intent is to reduce the cost of automation in agriculture. While that may not be a huge issue in developed nations, where food is already relatively inexpensive, surely it is an issue in developing nations.

      • The project's intent seems to be to give people a DIY route or perhaps adaptability for specific applications. Can you build or mod this "modern John Deere" mentioned above yourself in this way? I also wonder about the applicability of both for non-chemical weed and pest control.
        • by Zynder (2773551)
          Now if we're talkin DIY then hell yes you can make it do whatever you want! Throw the offending non-modifiable computer in the trash and install your own. This is easily in the realms of a true hacker. Also, I'm a true Scotsman- I wear a kilt and everything!
      • Any machine left in the garden does what? That's right! It RUSTS! Or, is
        trampled by the deer herd that comes to eat your perfectly grown tomatoes. I
        guess you could open-source mount a rifle with laser guided computer optics
        to handle the deer, but what about the rust problem? Also, in California
        anyway, the Santa Ana's kick up and blow everything around, including dust,
        sand, grit, and pollution film from China that will gum up anything you put
        on a machine to prevent rust. Not trying to be an Eeyore, just givi

    • To make it easy, here's a picture of the "centuries old" technology in a 2010 model John Deere 1910E.
      https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/... [staticflickr.com]

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Yes. And compare that to a tractor from 100 years ago [flickr.com]. There's way more difference between the two tractors and 2 cars that are as far apart in the timeline.
    • I read that as Texas A&M at first. Hilarious because we have potato scoopers, peanut harvesters, corn combines, and such here; while Arizona is using mexicans, and giving reports on the labor-intensive task of harvesting peanuts and potatoes.

      Farms don't employ labor on the east coast.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The harvesting peanuts and potatoes is not any more labor intensive than the harvesting of cotton. It can be fully automated with machinery and merely supervised by an operator. Just because some of those from Arizona value people at less than machinery does not change the facts.

  • So this bot is not for WoW or Eve online?

  • by randomencounter (653994) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @01:13PM (#47705173)

    Get bad results.

    Agriculture has been advancing as fast as any other technology field.

    Here are some recent developments: http://www.popularmechanics.co... [popularmechanics.com]
    and GPS is becoming important to farm competitiveness: https://www.bae.ncsu.edu/topic... [ncsu.edu]

    None of this depending on massive fixed installations, so it can be used cost effectively over thousands of acres of fields.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Because I wasn't aware that power tractors, modern pesticides, and engineered crops had been around for "centuries." And it will be interesting to see if an all-in-one robot will really do better than each of those functions on separate towed carriages that a generic tractor pulls. My guess is "no."

    • I think you've put your finger on an underserved market - clandestine growbots that can be sent out to tend your crop in national forests while maintaining plausible denialblitiy.
      Anti-aircraft-drone drones. Drive-by killbots for defending your territory. And pusherbots. And if you expand into related industries, pimpbots.

      Like Syndicate LARP. With robots.
      You know, for the kids.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago"

    That's such horse shit (excuse the abstract pun), I nearly fell off my chair.

    The mechanisation of farming, in the last 200 years, is probably one of the most profound changes humanity has witnessed in a thousand years!

    In the last 60 or 70 years, development in the agricultural sector has been so rapid, it's now possible for a single person to do the job of 20, 30, 40 people and above, depending on the size of the farm.

    The

    • by Adriax (746043)

      The pilgrims faced starvation and death the first winter until the native americans introduced them to corn based ethanol to power their tractors.

  • Too bad it's so inaccurate. My wife works for John Deere. Their combines now have GPS in them, and will do crop analysis while harvesting. I tihnk the only thing keeping them from being fully automated is the farmers themselves.
    • by istartedi (132515)

      I'm not in the biz but I was aware tractors were pretty hi tech now. I'm thinking you still need a person in the seat for a number of reasons. The first thing that comes to mind is that something might get snagged. The tractor is like a giant copy machine. Corn tray full. PC LOAD FERTILIZER.

    • by caseih (160668)

      Close... there are still things that require human intervention currently, though in the future combines will be completely autonomous. Right now humans have to watch for interruptions in crop flow, obstacles, etc. Just got in from harvesting wheat all day. GPS did all the steering, the computer took care of cutting height across uneven ground. Though my combine does not have it, many combines can moderate their ground speed as well, changing speed as crop conditions change to make sure the machine is r

  • " while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago. "

    What? we have made better plows, we have automated harvesters, we can genetically engineer plants to make the better, starter and healthier.
    .

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Someone hasn't been on a farm in a while. Farming is seriously high tech, with computer vision and robots and machines the size most city dweller won't see their whole life. You may think having a latest gen smart phone and sitting in front of a computer all day makes you high tech, but farmers have you beat.

  • Ah, so now we can fully realize the dream of Gene Simmons reprogramming robots to kill. I seem to remember a farming robot was part of the intro. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt00... [imdb.com]
  • laser levelling (Score:5, Informative)

    by jmichaelg (148257) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @01:34PM (#47705351) Journal

    The fields I drive by on my way to work put the lie to the author's premise. A week ago, I saw a road-scrapper type device running around a field that had a spinning laser positioned more or less in the center of the field. The laser provided a level reference that the scrapper responded to moment by moment by lifting or lowering the blade. The machines are designed to build a field with a precise gradient so the farmer can minimize the amount of water needed to irrigate the field as well as to uniformly irrigate the crop. The water may be free but lifting it from the aquifer isn't.

    Further down the road, there was a device that was building perfect raised beds covered in plastic. Strawberries need to be grown in well drained soil and the raised beds provide that. The plastic is used to keep a fumigant on the bed until it decays instead of leaking into the atmosphere prior to seeding. Once the soil is fumigated, it's planted by an automated planter that leaves the plastic in place to reduce evaporation - again to save water.

    The next field over was being harvested by a machine that requires two people to operate it. Ten years ago, there'd be a crew of 30 doing the same task.

    The industrial revolution upended farming from what it was centuries ago and that process hasn't stopped since. The net result is fewer people are needed to grow more food at a lower cost. Downside is calories have become so cheap that most of us are overfed.

    • We don't need to produce more food; we need to waste less than 63%.
    • by volmtech (769154)
      After 17 years of farming fields with ponds and sand knolls I bought one of those systems. Pulling that thing around with my John Deere watching the blade cut down high spots and then drop the sand in holes was the most fun you could have in a cab by yourself. That was in 1987, now you can get one that uses GPS for position and height. A word of warning, if the spinney thing stops, don't look into the lens to just as it decides to power back up.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Everything that can be automated has been automated. Just look at a modern combine harvester and marvel.

    Delicate crops are more difficult to automate not because we lack the technology to built a machine to do it, but because that machine is not cost-efficient to build compared to slave labor.

    We didn't ship in another five million Mexicans for nothing, kids.

    • Provide free farming automation equipment to all farmers within 200 miles of any border.

      It seems like that would cut down so heavily on demand for labor, that not many people would find it worth trying to cross.

      • by Jeremi (14640)

        It seems like that would cut down so heavily on demand for labor, that not many people would find it worth trying to cross.

        Not to mention that anyone with a sufficiently capable farm-bot could use it raise their own crops to eat, and would therefore no longer need to go searching for a menial job in order to feed their family. Win-win!

  • They plan to take this technology to an entirely new level by creating a 3D Printer that is capable of, you guessed it, farming.

    So it's not a printer in any sense of the word. Great start for that article. The rest really goes downhill from there. Shouldn't it have been published on the 1st of April?

  • They have doohickey's out now that take advantage of satellite imaging to tell the farmers where there is a problem in the fields, where it may need more or less fertilizer or water, how to plant better, when crops need to be rotated. There is also equipment with camera's on them that adjust the fertilizer or pesticides coming out of each nozzle on the fly. That way what is being put on the crop is customized for what that section of field needs. As been said above, combines and tractors where the operator
    • Just because in the southwest US (looking at you California that should be a desert) they still use lots of manual labor doesn't mean that that there aren't machine that can harvest these crops. There are machines that shake fruit trees and catches it, picks grapes off the vines, harvest tomatoes (the machine takes in the whole plant), and I wouldn't be surprised if picking things like broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce couldn't be done in a similar fashion, especially given what I have seen in the grocery stor
      • by hondo77 (324058)
        Who told you California isn't using machines for harvesting? Good look finding workers harvesting grapes out here, as it's all done by machines now. How do you think we're able to feed the rest of you slackers? ;-)
        • I just keep hearing about how California needs all of this migrant farm labor to bring in the harvest from the news so I figured that migrant labor (probably illegal) was still widely used instead of mechanization.

          Living in an upper Midwestern state California, comparatively, is a slacker when it comes to food production and with good preservation techniques having good food is easy year round even when it isn't in season. Case in point I have found that by being a cheap guy I have also become mostly a lo
  • Nomenclature (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ideonaut (2047822) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @01:42PM (#47705431)
    That's not a rut, it's a furrow.
  • Like tractors and fertilizer.

  • I've been looking for ways to reduce my time actively playing Farmville for a while now.

  • >The goal? To increase food production by automating as much of it as possible.

    They believe that automation is the key to increasing food production? Are they serious? The key to increasing food production is to either get more acreage in production, or to increase the amount of food produced per acre. Most types of farming (like corn & wheat) don't take huge amounts of labor. Even if they could automate something like picking vegetables that still wouldn't make it so there's more food, just, maybe,

  • Like genetically engineers crops, GPS in tractors and automated grain processing facilities?
  • I just had a flashback to 'Spaced Invaders'
    1. change Y and Z axis
    2. 3 laws safe?
  • There is no "FarmBot". There is only a Kickstarter project [kickstarter.com] to start a wiki to create a social network for talking about farming-related subjects, parhaps including talking about a FarmBot.

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      There is no "FarmBot".

      If you watch the video at the bottom of the article, you'll see photos of several prototype FarmBots that do, in fact, exist.

      • by Animats (122034)

        If you watch the video at the bottom of the article, you'll see photos of several prototype FarmBots that do, in fact, exist.

        Those are just tabletop gardening robots. That was done 20 years ago. [berkeley.edu]

        There's lots of real robotic agricultural machinery, much of it mobile. Building a gantry over a tabletop doesn't scale.

  • "Farming has been stuck in a bit of a rut, when compared to other industries. Businesses across the globe have been innovating for decades, while farming has been using techniques that have been handed down from centuries ago."

    That was obviously written by a non-farmer. Farming is one of the leading places of innovation and technological advancement both at small and large scale farms. I take it from the writer's obvious ignorance that they live in a box in the city.

  • If ernieKey knew anything about modern agriculture he wouldn't have claimed such a lack of technological progress in agriculture. Crop production uses GPS controlled tractors and combines, animal production uses computer controlled monitoring and automation of environmental controls, electronic feeding systems that allow for group housing AND individualized nutrition plans, feed mills use real time NIR to evaluate feedstuffs so as to enable more accurate feed formulation, slaughter houses are wonders of aut
  • This is not about producing more food, this is about reducing the production cost. After all, the same work could have been done by humans.

    But I would appreciate other improvement from farming: Instead of producing more or cheaper, it would be nice to produce more sustainable: avoid erosion, limit chemical helpers, avoid GMO (which will just drive resistance against chemical helpers), manage water supply...

  • Most of the top comments I'm seeing are pointing out the clearly false statement that farming hasn't changed much.

    The more interesting thing to me here is the obvious potential for smaller groups of people with smaller amounts of land and money to run much more sophisticated food-growing operations than would otherwise be possible.

    If you read the TFA, you might realize that the application of CNC-type tech to maintaining a complex mixed garden and maximizing its output is actually a pretty damn intere

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