…He was studying mechanical engineering, but, to satisfy his interest in gardening, he took an elective in organic agriculture. One day, a farmer gave a guest lecture about a tractor that used machine vision to detect and pull weeds, eliminating the need for either manual labor or environmentally damaging herbicides. The only problem was that it cost more than $1 million.
That gave Aronson the idea of doing the same thing with a series of tracks and pulleys that operated more like a dot matrix printer than a tractor. Instead of using machine vision to “see” weeds, this contraption would know the exact position of all its crops, so that it could pull-up everything around them. He quickly realized this would be cheaper than the tractors, and that it could be used for other tasks as well, like planting and watering crops.
Last year, he published a white paper on the project and quickly attracted a team of volunteers, including software developer Rick Carlino and firmware hacker Tim Evers. The team is almost done with its hardware prototype, and it will then work on software that will include a “gamified” interface for managing the garden. Aronson compares this interface to the popular online game Farmville.
Starting next month, Aronson will be working on the project full-time, thanks to a grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation, the nonprofit organization started by Mark Shuttleworth of Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu distribution of Linux. “I imagine I will create a for-profit company to sell hardware kits,” Aronson says. “What’s awesome in my eyes is that everyone can start a business related to Farmbot. Plugins, seed injectors, anything.”
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