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.