Bug-Bot Future of FarmBots


#1

The work being done at FarmBot is awesome, I’d like to start off by saying. It’s really inspirational to see how people are contributing their ideas and sharing excellent information. It will be exciting to see where this project and others like it are in five, ten years.

One great direction to go in would be to try to create tiny bots that swarm into a tree, vine, bush, thicket, anything, and harvest its edibles/useful portions. The advantages would be:

  • people could start harvesting plants that were native to their environments much more, cutting down dramatically on how much additional water was needed per calorie and shifting food loads of cities to more local sources, cutting down on transportation burdens
  • people could start harvesting plants that aren’t feasible to harvest, for example trees in parking lots after all the cars had left for the day, unlocking a lot more growing land to be interspersed throughout a city
  • people could start trying to harvest edibles that are prohibitively tedious or dangerous to harvest, such as flower buds, cacti, especially tall trees, etc.
  • learning how to harvest the plants that grow natively where you live means not having to fight as many pests and weeds
  • tiny bots offer the advantage of needing only a little amount of power, potentially being able to re-charge via solar in the field, so to speak

Bots could be programmed to know the coordinates of plants, or plants could be tagged with RFID or something of that nature for the bots to know what their associated plants were, and then programmed to collect harvest on command. There may be a series of bots, some for cutting, some for collection, some for sorting, some for transport back to some nearby hub or storage facility, etc.

From the looks of it, little bug-bots seem to be getting a decent amount of research attention, and I imagine anyone with access to a scientific library could read the technical details of these projects and others like it for plans:

Certainly each plant species would have different mechanical requirements. I’d wonder what types of species would be “low hanging fruit” for a project like this, given the state of our research and development today. Clearly lettuce and leafy greens growing out of the ground would be easy, but they’re easy for a human too so less advantageous. Plants like citrus and fruit have a big, heavy, fleshy thing hanging off a tiny twig- gravity could assist in making cutting them off, if they could have a reliable way of getting to the fruit. What kind of species would be difficult for a human but not totally infeasible for a swarm of little bots?

I’d love to hear what others have to say about where the limitations to something like this are today, what is needed to get hackerspace/open-source/hobbyist research and prototyping started, if there would be better solutions for native plant harvesting (for example, bioengineering little species to do these types of tasks), and if anyone knows of any current open source hardware projects already underway.


#2

I really like this. I too have seen the odd article and video about the great things that these bug bots/quadcopter things can do.

If I were to summarize what you are saying, Farmbot tooling would be great on these bug bots? I think that this could happen if the farm bot people teamed up with some of the bug bot people who like the open source model. Perhaps the next step would be to find bug bot developers open to the open source model?


#3

Hey, another thought occurred to me. I think that the bug bots might be able to direct a watering tractor or little red wagon style Farmbot for watering. Perhaps the little red wagon type of Farmbot could have solar panels and batteries for a power system and to recharge the bug bots.


#4

This idea has to keep moving forward. I have put a link to your forum in the Farmbot Wiki.

http://wiki.farmbot.org/farmbots/farmbot-drone-system

This will give us a place to organize this concept. As you will see there is a link back to this form so it is known that you presented this idea to us.

Jozef


#5

Its really interesting because you could have some sort distributed harvesting system for a food forest / permaculture although its a pretty vast undertaking. Also you’re going to need something like a drone carrier, which could have a plugin/solar powered battery and “hangars” for docking and charging and secondly some type of autonomous delivery bot like http://www.templetons.com/brad/robocars/deliverbots.html

Eventually you could have slightly larger drones monitoring (24hr high and lows) heat/humidity/wind/oxygen/moisture/plant types/soil depthes/climate modeling for permaculture. Then you can have your smaller bots pollinating, harvesting and seeding.

Once you solve the harvesting side of the equation the benefits of a permaculture are formidable. You have herb and vegetable cover crops, large vegetables, bushes, vines and trees all bearing edibles in the same space! its marvelous in terms of yield.

Like little farmer insects


#6

Hi Stargarden,

On the drone delivery side, Amazon is working on that already. I posted a YouTube video on the wikipage for bugbots. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2itwFJCgFQ
Those people who made that video are a lot of the same people who developed Kiva and I am pretty sure that they are working with Amazon again.

I agree about the drone carrier and I put that in the wikipage. Solar and battery is clearly the best energy source, especially in a remote food forest. If I forgot to mention solar in the wiki, that is a huge oops on my part.

This is a vast undertaking, however, I really think that it is worthwhile. This is tough for me because I see a lot of opportunity, yet I have a lot to learn. I am just learning about food forests now. Before that I was really focused on companion planting, which leads up to food forestry. I am rambling. Let’s layout what I think the next steps should be and then I would love to hear what you and others think.

  1. Roughly layout out this project. Give a clear explanation so that Engineering firms and university profs/students can give us an estimated cost and time line to develop this system.

  2. Contacting drive - Get quotes and timelines from engineering firms and profs/students.

  3. Crowdfunding drive - The masses blog and debate over which system (or perhaps systems to merge) and then we crowdfund the development of our drone and carrier system. I get that this wouldn’t be a cheap endeavour. However, it would be worth it if we could have this.


#7

Hey JozefdeBeer,

As to your steps, I’d guess that it’s hard to say what point we should start at since there are so many plants we could harvest from, and each has a completely different sets of needs.

One route might be to first identify plants that are already being grown commercially but are difficult to harvest. That may help provide bugbot developers some technical experience while being easier to secure funding.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/09/07/437285894/4-labor-intensive-crops-farmers-wish-they-had-robots-to-harvest

A different route might be to try to identify different types of standard harvesting tasks that could be modified only slightly from one species to the next to accommodate the harvesting of many different types of plants. For example, snipping a peach off a tree is not that different from snipping an apple or a plum, but each one may require slight differences in the blade angle or thickness or things like that. You could have a prototypical snipper-bot that needed only slight modification for the kind of tree that needed snipping. Once you had developed a set of general proto-bugs (say, the identifier, the snipper, the scooper, etc.), you could let customers provide their own funding for making slight modifications to those proto-bugs for the species they specifically wanted harvested.

I think something like the second route would be a little more in keeping with the grassroots/DIY nature of open engineering projects like farm bot, but that’s not to say that there’s necessarily any right answer.

As an aside, I wish there was a better engineering crowdfunding infrastructure where all the people who actually intended to use something could specify what they needed directly to the engineers before the crowdfunding effort began so that the engineers didn’t have put a bunch of effort into guessing what people would use and then hope to get funding. If we knew today that most permaculture enthusiasts were primarily interested in a prototypical bot that flew up to a tree, identified its apples, and then snipped those off at the stem, we could veer in those directions from the outset instead of trying to guess what the most valuable species or tasks might be ahead of time.


#8

Hi Acbaum,

I really like your feedback. I strongly agree with your sentiments. I really think that we need cohesion between knowing what the masses would like and what open sourced engineers could design. I also think that people need to know what their options are. Quotes would go a long way. Estimates for design, prototype and production would help us figure out how much to raise through pre-sales.

There are definitely pros and cons to both paths you presented. Obviously I prefer the permaculture approach. However I get that monoculture design is more simple and is a logical stepping stone for financing. Plus there is sincere need to help these farmers. Furthermore, while I have a really strong feeling about food forestry, the reality is that it is still in it’s infancy. So, I will propose a mixed path, that we collaborate with farmers on the technology side and see if some of these farmers would be interested in teaming up with local permaculture enthusiasts, perhaps setting up small experimental spots and then expand what works best for them. Once the technology is set up for monoculture farmers, we can move into permaculture food forestry and wild foods. Personally, I would feel better offering the farmers a chance to collaborate and expand into what we are doing. I also think that urban farmers would also be interested in bug bots as well, which may keep things along the second path you were suggesting as well. So many possibilities.

Giving the different types of swarms thought, since you presented many ideas here, I like the idea of many kinds of bug bots working together. I too can visualize climbing ones cutting fruit and bringing it up to the flying ones who bring it to the truck or carrier.

I am really not sure what to do next. Do we need an new engineering crowdfunding platform? If there is an existing platform, it is probably more efficient to use it.


#9

I would like to add that whatever ultimately happens, it will be up to the masses. I could also see local permaculture crowds investing in a bugbot swarm system to share amongst personal and community plots. I would prefer this route too, more like your second path. Going along your first path, there would be little I could do to help.

Part of me also wants to see established fruit trees like the cherry ones in your link better utilized. However, things like ownership and control could get in the way too.

I would also like to outline competing ideas to bugbot:

  1. Farmbot, this is a great concept and especially feasible as is where there is year round growing. Living in an area with a 4-5 month growing season, I can’t pitch Farmbot as is to my local friends and family. Once a harvesting system is figured out (like a mechanical arm) that labour saving will drastically increase feasibility in northern areas.

  2. Food forests and permaculture gardens without any tech and new ideas. We are learning more and more. I have said that food forestry is in its infancy (even though there are a few food forests over 20 years old), one way to get around picking fruit is to raise animals that will live off of the fruit and other permaculture plants. This may be an even quicker fix than bugbots for the orchard farmers with rotten fruit. An of course see which animals (or combination of) will do best in these environments.