A honest review from a fooled customer

Hey all

A few weeks ago i have ordered a FarmBot genesis XL 1.5

i watched all the youtube videos about and i was kinda impressed, what this thing can do.

For me it looked like a great solution to have a garden and grow your own food even when traveling a lot and not having time to take care to your garden.

The FarmBot arrived kinda quick and i started to prepare my raised bed and assembling the device.

Assembling took a lot of time but the manual was easy to understand and after a few evenings and a couple of beers, the hardware was set up and ready to start.

with the start, the disappointing things came. The Raspberry Pi delivered with was faulty, there was no wifi. Luckily i have a lot of technical understanding and was able to troubleshoot the issue and replaced the Raspberry pi with another one i had laying around.

finally the system booted up properly and i started to configure the software. i quickly noticed a lot (and i mean a lot!) of motor stalls. The tracks and wheels are so precise, a small dent, or piece of dirt (we are in a garden, it is dirty there guys!) caused the motors to stall.

after cleaning up everything and removing wheels the farmbot was able to move. Now to the next problem…

The motors vibrate very strong during movement, so strong, bolts became loose and causing other problems obviously. I was contacting farmbot and they were telling that this is normal.

I then started to calibrate the camera. After 5 Hours (no joke!) struggling around i gave up, farmbot is not able to detect weeds.

Contacted farmbot and they asked for photos of the USB connectors and told it is maybe because i took a newer raspberry pi than the one they supply. (haha)

ok nevermind, i like to plant seeds and start my garden.

Taking a look at the software i quickly noticed, i have to program everything on my own. I can choose what i’d like to plant, but there is no solution to tell the farmbot where this seed is, or how much water it takes.

it has a soil sensor, but farmbot can’t measure the soil of every plant, store the value and then water it accordingly.

even simple things like remember what tool is mounted currently and continue with the job.

after wasting a lot of time and money, i have disassembled the farmbot and it will go on its way back to where it came from soon. at least farmbot promised me a 100% refund.

Conclusion:
Farmbot is a great idea, but the project is in a so early stage that sentences like “we are ready to bring farmbot to the masses” or “it automaticly switches tools” “precisely water each plant according its needs” “use the camera to detect weeds and then destroy them” all this is a lie. it is about to fool people, telling them that they will buy a great and working product, without telling that you will face tons of issues and you’ll spend much more time in the garden because your farmbot is not working properly than you spend before to take care of your plants manually.

The farmbot project is a great idea, but it will need at least another 3 years of developing until it is ready to use and not just a toy

this is what was disappointing me the most:

  1. Weed detection is not working
  2. weed destroying is not working
  3. noisy and strugling motors (you’ll get angry neighbours if it moves in the night)
  4. you have to programm every movement on your own (even simple things like photographing the whole garden)
  5. sensitive tracks
  6. no possibility to set the Z position of a plant (no garden is perfectly flat)
  7. poor arduino firmware (you can crash against soil or enstops (why haven’t you simply took something like marlin))
  8. way too expensive for what you get.
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I was surprised to read that, full disclosure , I have been using the platform since v1.1 so I know my way around and I like to tinker. I haven’t yet tried the v1.5 Farmduino but apart from the noise which gets better if you move the steppers slightly faster and make a few cheap mods to the z axis, I haven’t had most of the issues you describe. I think v1.4 Farmduino was quite stable as I have put it through its paces to say the least. Room for improvement but it works.

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Wow !

Hmmm . . indeed it can certainly “do” stuff but it needs a lot of savvy hands-on !

I’m hoping for you that @roryaronson will respond to your honest post with helpful and zero-hype suggestions to fix all those “teething troubles” :slight_smile:

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I agree it does, my farmbot is now very different to the shipped version, sorry @kevin I spoke too soon not a good comparison.

I have to agree. It’s a great concept and probably very nascent. After the price tag associated, you’d expect to up and running from day one. I’ve had hits and misses with support. Sometimes responses are great. At other times, it’s - please share your availability… and it’s radio silence. Not to mention incorrect parts being shipped so one can sit fiddling thumbs…

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My assessment too . . I’m going to try to help get this product out of the “slow lane” ( where it’s been for 6 years ) by contributing to improving software-side robustness, QA, improving the UX, etc. :: the OSS model requires active global participation to stay healthy :slight_smile:

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I know the machine is not perfect. I have a Genesis V1.2+. I had it 1/2 built for two years in my back garden because I traveled 95% for work. Now I have finished it and it is growing crops (harvested my first radish 2 days ago). I have it operating nearly perfect now except for the X-axis being somewhat finicky and jittery. It is very sensitive to alignment - and I have the tracks screwed to a wooden box which moves do to seasonality and moisture content of the dirt.

It is a finicky machine. It is still very developmental. I chose to participate in this as a project for me to learn about robotics, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, RAMPS, motor control, etc.

I have found the FarmBot company to be very responsive to my smart and dumb questions. I have found the community forum to be fairly useful. I am currently working on a gentle watering head for my machine so sensitive seedlings don’t get damaged. That is bridging me into 3D printing and learning Fusion 360. This is all great stuff for an middle aged engineer like me. I am with @jsimmonds , I am eager to help the product get better. And like @whitecaps , I like to tinker.

On the very positive side: It gets me outside in my garden more. I am learning new technical skills. It is a hobby robot that does a real function. The FarmBot can grow in capability and application in so many directions. I just like being a small part of it.

Even with all the fiddling and tinkering and figuring, and time consumed, my wife has asked when we are getting a second one.

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Thanks guys for your reply

was anyone able to detect and destroy weeds automatically and reliable?

Thanks for the honest review @kevin. A lot of your points are well received, especially the overall assessment that FarmBot is still in its early stages of development - it absolutely is.

I usually like to compare FarmBot to DIY 3D printing. The hardware overlap is high, both have strong open-source roots, both require an amount of elbow grease and know-how, and both are relatively new technologies (though DIY 3D printing has probably at least 5+ additional years of development under its belt than FarmBot, not to mention a much larger community).

So, there are indeed a lot of things one is getting themselves into when they get a DIY 3D printer or a FarmBot.

“Precisely water each plant according to its needs” = “Print any object you want”

For FarmBot, the prerequisite there is configuring/embedding the plant’s needs into your sequences, regimens, and events. In 3D printing, the prerequisite is knowing how to 3D model using CAD software. These days there is a great library of freely downloadable CAD models for quick printing without the prerequisite. And that’s exactly our plan with with FarmBot - develop a library of growing guides that anyone can contribute to so others can just get to growing quickly without the prerequisite.

i watched all the youtube videos

I’m surprised that in watching all our videos you didn’t gain a clearer idea up front about the ins and outs of FarmBot and what is currently required of users. Even just a quick glance over the documentation I would assume shows in great detail the current state of things. Something I am very proud of actually is the amount of content we have put forward in educating users and prospective customers about everything - the tech specs, the software guides, the project development board are all freely available online and we’re not shy about linking to them.

That being said, I could totally see that if you just watched the product launch video you would be misled. Those videos are meant to be visionary, exciting, focused on the big concepts rather than the details. They’re meant to hype people up and bring them to our website to learn more. Buying a FarmBot just based on one of product launch videos, to me, would be like buying a house after just looking at the online listing and not actually doing a walkthrough and inspection.

“we are ready to bring farmbot to the masses”

That’s a line specifically from the launch video for FarmBot Express, which I stand by in many regards. Compared to Genesis, Express is designed to be usable by a lot more people:

  • The whole kit comes 95% pre-assembled, so it is a much faster and easier assembly process than Genesis. Not to mention it has about half the number of total parts to begin with.
  • There are no interchangeable tools and UTM, so that whole aspect of FarmBot (hardware and software) is taken out of the equation.
  • There are no tracks that need to be precisely installed, which can be difficult for a lot of users given the crazy environment that the garden is for CNC equipment to exist in.
  • The price of Express kits are about half of the price of Genesis kits, making the equipment a lot more affordable.
  • Oh my goodness please compare Express v1.0 to Genesis v1.2 and you’ll see how far we have come.

this is what was disappointing me the most:

I thank you for your honest feedback - that is what helps us prioritize development to improve it in ways that matter most to people. Here are some brief responses to your points:

  • 1 & 2 Weed detection and destruction is admittedly lacking and may be our next major push in development. However, we also hear lots of other feedback and improvement requests, and there are items that aren’t as user-facing that need to be taken care of as well. We’re a very small team doing our best to build an ambitious new technology from scratch.
  • 3 That is resolvable with some tuning.
  • 4 That’s part of the fun! Though we could also provide more pre-made sequences that ship with new user accounts to get people up and running faster for the common tasks.
  • 5 That can be remedied with hardware tinkering or avoided altogether with FarmBot Express.
  • 6 This feature rolled out a few days ago.
  • 7 Present day Marlin and some 3D printers now support stall detection using the same stepper driver technology that we’re using with the latest kits. When we started this project, Marlin did not support that, and to this day you will see many 3D printers still suffer from crashing into the print and shifted layers, without any kind of “smarts” to figure that out. I don’t think I have ever seen a hobby level 3D printer with built in rotary encoders, which is a pretty major FarmBot innovation from the start in my opinion.
  • 8 Again, FarmBot Express is our more economical option, but I understand that its still a lot of money for many people, and the value still won’t be high enough as well. All new technologies start out more expensive and limited, but get less expensive and better over time. Just look back at Genesis v1.2, v1.3, and v1.4 to really how far we’ve come. There is always a road ahead though…

Anyways, thanks for taking a chance on us and giving FarmBot a go. Perhaps you can get involved again in a couple of years!

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Any help that you can bring will certainly be gratefully received!

I am really waiting for the FarmBot Sport GT.

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Just to add my comment to this discussion: We also looked at the project for a while and saw different videos and had a look at the documentation. Our plan was to start with the “end user” version “express” to contribute with garden design ideas as we believed that the robot was able to perform the tasks that are presented: seeding, weeding, watering. Turned out that this was not the case. We changed our agenda. We are now trying to get the robot to perform the advertised tasks. That’s fine because we like tinkering around. However, I completely understand the disappointment.

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Good for you ! and fortunate that you could “change your agenda” :slight_smile: post-purchase because you are competent “tinkerers”.

For mine, these bots are definitely Open Source “maker”-class machines of good quality with good scope for simple enhancements and generous amounts of STEM learning !

I would hope that this project can go to a stage where people who are not that much interested in electronics and mechanics but most in gardening would be able to use the bot. Where they would be able to just put the bot on the raised bed, place the plants (with a game like experience :slight_smile: ) and basically leave the bot for itself. This would open a whole new dimension as all the gardening-enthusiasm that is not paired with maker-enthusiasm would contribute to the project. A lot of our neighbors and friends are asking about the bot, but large portion of them would definitely not be ready for all the tinkering we are doing. I think we should go for the development of a tinker-free farmbot!

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So, when you and I have designed, developed, tested, road-tested and marketed this autonomous horticulture robot . . then the “makers and tinkerers” will ask : “How do I customize this thing ?” :smiley:

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And we will answer: Thanks to open source and nicely defined interfaces like the UTM, you will be able to customize to your needs. And the world is going appear in harmonic colors and humankind will be happier than ever before :smiley:

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If i buy a 3D Printer, i can download a lot of stuff on Thingiverse and print it without much know how about CAD drawing.
I’ve already built 3D printers on my own. they do what you are expecting. The Farmbot is like a 3D printer without slicing software. (indeed, you have to enter every movement step by step)

i haven’t tried the express. i wanted to buy it first but Marc recommended me to get the Genesis. But i guess, the software is the same?!

Seriously? just a few lines before you compared farmbot with a 3D printer, now it is a house?
so you are telling me, i should have taken a plane, fly over to your place and take a look at the farmbot before buying it? this is ridiculous, isn’t it?

i still highly recommend to throw away your Arduino software and move over to Marlin. Nevermind the encoders anymore. these are not needed you can get stall detection out of the Trinamic drivers. This would be a big step forward. I am sorry for the time you waisted to develop your software, it was like re inventing the wheel but yours is in a triangled shape.

Next thing you can easily fix is having much more play on the mechanics. you do not need 1/10 of a millimeter accuracy, but it should be able to move even if some dirt is on the track.

then the hard work can begin with improving your software. But the first 2 things are done quickly.

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You missed the analogy. I meant, don’t just look at one marketing video and press buy. Look at the hardware documentation, the software documentation, watch some of the many other in-depth videos about the details of the product on our youtube channel, etc. If you have questions or concerns, talk to us or post on the forum. Then, only when you are confident the purchase is right for you, press buy.

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PR’s are welcome! :wink:

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I actually prefer the encoders as I need the long term positional accuracy they give. It was cool that FB branched out with Express to use the Trinamic drivers for a different user market.

I think the Farmbot Genesis concept has much more in common with large scale commercial CNC machines than small hobby 3D printers for several reasons; scale/size, ability to tool change, specialised software, e-stop button and requires some technical skill to operate. Although FB is cheaper, simplier and doesn’t require nanometer accuracy as you say.

So instead of Marlin, Grbl would perhaps be a better option, however because the Firmware allows Farmbot control over their innovation of the software and Farmduino I can see they would be reluctant to move.

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