FarmBot: A Journey Into Digital Gardening

Welcome to the world of FarmBot where technology meets agriculture. This robotic tech can plant, water, and nurture your crops until harvest - all through the use of a savvy app - with just one click.

Apple   Spotify   Google   RSS    YouTube


Welcome to Third Angle, where we’re sowing the seeds for robot gardening.

Today, we're diving into the realm of FarmBot, a ground-breaking innovation that's changing the game in home gardening. Picture this, a robot friend that not only alerts you to the perfect time for harvest, but also determines the ripeness of individual crops, like carrots and tomatoes. Rory Aronson is the visionary behind FarmBot, and in this episode he gives our producer, Victoria Shifflett, a demo, showing her how FarmBot easily nurtures crops with precision. What's also impressive is that Is that tech is open source, so users are now developing their own tools to complement the FarmBot system. The opportunities for how FarmBot may be used over the next few years are endless.

About FarmBot

FarmBot is an open-source precision agriculture CNC farming robot designed for small-scale automated food production. “FarmBot moves around, forward, and backwards, left and right, up and down, and it's mounted on top of your typical raised garden bed, five feet by ten feet, roughly. Then it will plant seeds, it will water, it will measure the soil moisture to determine how much to water. It has a camera to take pictures and track your plant growth and plant health, and it can also identify where the weeds are, and it has a built-in weed whacker so it can move around and once it finds where the weeds are, it can go and buzz them out.

The FarmBot system

FarmBot's primary structural elements are made of a corrosion resistant aluminum, while a custom Raspberry Pi 3 serves as the web-connected brain. “It's all controlled by a little computer built inside, and that talks over the Wi Fi with an application or an app that you can load up on your phone or your computer. And you can control your garden and monitor it from anywhere in the world. For the most part, you can set it up on autopilot. So once you get the seeds in the ground with the FarmBot, it can just take care of everything for the next two or three months. And it will send you an email when the tomatoes are ripe or when the carrots are ready for harvest. So, what we're working towards is a fully automated gardening system that can live in your backyard year-round and grow fresh food for you at home with very little ongoing effort by you.

From idea to reality

Rory had the idea whilst studying in California. “I had the idea for the FarmBot a little more than halfway through my studies, and I wrote this paper describing all of the technology. I published it online and I said, you know, who wants to help with this? This is my idea, and I need a team of people to help. I can bring the, the hardware side, but I need people who are experienced with software, people who are excited about this, and share that vision of a home appliance that can grow food for you.

A closer look at its functions and features

“So, the tool bars are mounted usually on one of the short edges of the bed. The FarmBot has a universal tool mount which has magnets in it, and it can pick up and dismount the tools as needed depending on the task that it's doing. So, the included tools are the watering nozzle, the seed injector, the soil sensor, and the rotary tool, which is like our little miniature weed whacker. The FarmBot can basically do automatic tool changes, you know, just like you might pick up a shovel or the hose or a trowel, depending on what you're doing in the garden”.

Empowering users by making FarmBot open-source

“One of our customers has developed a carrot harvesting machine. Another customer has put onto the end here an additional camera that has several servo motors and it can be rotated around in all directions so they can take pictures of their plants from a side angle or almost underneath the plant to kind of view the canopy of the leaves. A major component of publishing was that I was making the whole idea of FarmBot open source, it's the opposite sort of philosophy of “this is my idea, I own it and no one else can do anything with it, only me”. Instead, the open-source philosophy is this is everyone's idea. It's in the public domain. If you want to build this, if you want to modify it, if you want to use the idea for commercial purposes or for research or just in your own backyard, or to build a company, you can totally do any of that stuff.

Onshape: Enabling collaboration and efficiency

To design the FarmBot Genesis, Rory chose Onshape, PTC's cloud native CAD and PDM platform. Onshape is the first and only cloud-native product development platform that delivers professional-grade CAD capabilities with next-generation product data management (PDM), powering agile design processes at lower costs. “FarmBot found shifting to Onshape was very much like the shift from old desktop, file based, installed word processing, to modern cloud native word processing. All of a sudden, the power of real time collaboration is unlocked. With any other CAD and PDM system, you have to install software, be on the right computing platform, maybe export files, import them, lock them. That can't happen in Onshape. The engineers can edit the same document simultaneously and everyone's able to watch or provide feedback”.


Thanks to Jon for his insight, Rory Aronson for showing us his dedication to a greener future and to Victoria Shifflett for taking us behind the scenes of Farmbot. Please rate, review and subscribe to our bi-weekly Third Angle episodes wherever you listen to your podcasts and follow PTC on LinkedIn and X for future episodes.

This is an 18Sixty production for PTC. Executive producer is Jacqui Cook. Sound design and editing by Rema Mukena. Location recording by Victoria Shifflett. And music by Rowan Bishop.

Episode guests

Rory Aronson, CEO at FarmBot Inc

More about FarmBot

Jon Hirschtick, VP & Chief Evangelist at PTC

More about Onshape