We wrote about the digital transformation of farming in the past—transformation on a large scale for farming enterprises worldwide. In the same article, we touched briefly on precision farming at home. Smart technologies for the home garden took off rapidly a few years ago. But where large-scale farming technology is evolving rapidly and widely adopted, adoption of home gardening tech has been slow in all but a few categories. In this post, we dig deeper (pun intended) into the state of technology for the home yard and garden and what the future might hold.
I touched on the FarmBot in my last article. It’s a comprehensive kit of applications and hardware that is installed around a home vegetable garden bed. Once installed, it plants seeds, monitors soil and plant health, waters, weeds, and scares birds and mice away. But, with a price from $2,600 to $3,800 per “bot,” only serious gardeners need apply.
GardenSpace proposed an interesting, simpler, more affordable potential competitor to FarmBot. It had a Kickstarter campaign that offered a monitor, waterer, and pest chaser in a single, solar-powered device. It connected to an existing water supply and Wi-Fi connection, and it stood watch over a garden, using a 360-degree camera to monitor plant health and water needs. Prices looked to be roughly $400 per unit once the product hit the market. The campaign failed, however, and the product is not available. But it might be a sign of things to come in the home gardening tech space as technology advances, adoption increases, and prices normalize.
A product that is actually available and still simple and affordable is the Edyn Garden Sensor. It stands in a garden to monitor light, humidity, temperature, soil nutrition, and moisture needs. It sends updates to a smartphone app. Artificial intelligence (AI) is used to analyze the garden over time and recommend the best plant choices for its conditions. Taking action on the alerts provided is up to you to do manually, but for $100 a unit, you do benefit from some garden babysitting.
The Edyn Garden Sensor, as a smart sensor, is in a category that originally flourished, but that has since wilted. Consumers simply haven’t bought in to the idea—or perhaps the cost—of monitoring their gardens remotely. As early adopters have success and spread the word, consumers may yet take greater interest.
A variety of smart, in-ground sprinkler solutions, referred to as “smart controllers” or “irrigation controllers,” are available and can help consumers water more effectively. The solutions monitor current weather conditions and forecasts to send alerts to your phone; they can also connect right to your sprinkler timer to adjust watering cycles automatically. The category has fairly broad adoption. Municipalities in water-poor areas, including my own, are helping drive adoption by offering rebates for these systems in an effort to help conserve water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even offers a WaterSense label for many products. Prices range from $200 to $300.
Go Mow the Lawn Already
I confess; I don’t care for mowing the lawn. I even removed 2,000 square feet of my lawn to reduce how much I have to mow. That said, I’m an ideal candidate for a robotic lawn mower. This category of garden technology is actually well on its way to maturity. Many manufacturers offer robotic lawn mowers (ironically, Roomba is not among them), including Bosch, Honda, Husqvarna, McCulloch, Robomow, and WORX. Prices are still high—with units selling from as “little” as $1,000 to more than $3,000, which puts them out of reasonable reach for many. But with time and continued advances, prices should come down, and we’ll all have robots mow the lawn while we sit, eat bonbons, and watch the cat ride our robotic vacuums.
Get the Weeds Out
Tertill is a solar-powered robot that weeds, and it has a Kickstarter campaign with an estimated initial ship date of August 2018. Like a robotic lawn mower, Tertill resides in the garden. It uses sensors to patrol for short plants, and it cuts them down with a string line. Desired shorter plants can be spared by installing a small barrier around them, which are available from the manufacturer. The product currently seems a bit low tech, but the potential for added intelligence is amazing. Think of using AI to identify weeds based on leaf shape instead of just height and salvaging desired volunteer plants while eliminating only weeds, in addition to not having to purchase and install barriers to protect plants you want to grow up.
A Green Future?
All tech takes time to evolve, see adoption, and then become a mandatory part of our lives. Smartphones existed for a long time before they became widely adopted. Similarly, technology in the garden will see, and has already seen in some categories, the same ebb and flow in adoption. Just as Amazon’s Alexa is only now becoming a standard part of our homes, technology in the garden can’t be far behind.