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November 7, 2017 > The Robot Report

The Robot Report

By Paul Heney

The influence of todayÕs on-demand economy has uprooted traditional food production processes. No longer are environmentally conscious consumers content with purchasing items from large distributors or supermarkets. Instead, consumer pressure to track food from farm to fork has led to fully traceable food production and micro farming.

Seeking to influence the next generation of food production, FarmBot, the worldÕs first open-source, CNC small-scale farming machine, gives individuals the power to create and manage a garden using a laptop, tablet, or phone. Using open-source technology, home gardeners can assemble the software and hardware that oversee the automated planting, watering, and monitoring of crops.

ÒFarmBot is helping consumers produce and grow their own food,Ó said founder Rory Aronson. ÒIt is much more than knowing where your food originated. With our open-source technology, anyone who wants to contribute and help us build the future of farming has that opportunity.Ó

FarmBot was launched in 2016 and aimed to market its initial product and FarmBot Genesis technology directly at a mix of DIYers and makers. With a round of crowdfunding support from aspiring micro-farmers, the company picked up steam and more FarmBots began to ship to excited customers.

A year later, FarmBot was named a recipient of Proto LabsÕ Cool Idea! Award, a manufacturing grant that helps startups bring innovative products to market. ÒProto Labs came in at the perfect time. We spent a lot of time to bring down our costs and get to market faster. With the engineers at Proto Labs, weÕve worked to develop complex parts in a shorter time to continue our fast-paced innovation,Ó said Aronson.

Proto LabsÕ manufacturing grant and product development experts helped FarmBot transition from 3D-printed components to more repeatable and cost-effective injection-molded parts. This resulted in a more efficient supply chain, which gave FarmBot the ability to quickly react to demand among its growing customer base.

ÒWeÕve been very pleased with the parts. WeÕve actually learned more about injection molding and how to design our parts for this process to make the most of our time and investment,Ó said Aronson. Working with Proto LabsÕ design experts and its design for manufacturability feedback has been critical as weÕve scaled production.Ó

With FarmBotÕs pace of innovation, thereÕs no room for idle part inventory. The company needed on-demand manufacturing to produce only the parts needed, when they need them. The manufacturing and supply chain agility offered by Proto Labs will ensure that FarmBot continues to innovate and evolve its components as the team plans critical areas for growth.

Unexpected demand in the education sector
As FarmBot grew, elementary schools, research universities, and other institutions started to recognize the potential it could play in teaching students about agriculture, engineering, and technology. Nearly half of the FarmBot systems sold in the first year went to schools or universities -- a surprise for Aronson and his team. ÒFrom the start, we knew that FarmBot could play a role in education, but we did not expect the demand and support to be so prolific,Ó said Aronson.

Excitement for FarmBotÕs academic potential spurred the interest of colleges, high schools, and other institutions. This caught the eye of John G. Wells, Ph.D., and associate professor of technology education at Virginia Tech University.

ÒFarmBot is an engaging, multi-generational tool that provides so many opportunities for students of all ages to learn,Ó said Wells. ÒThe technology is set up as a challenge and lets students go their own direction. This engagement is incredibly meaningful to undergraduate all the way up to graduate students.Ó

Aronson and his team view FarmBot as a collaborative tool that can educate and empower communities, not just students or individuals. ÒFarmBot can fit a variety of applications, but we believe it has a lot of potential to spur interest in learning about agriculture and open-source technology across generations and across communities,Ó said Aronson.

The FarmBot team is planning to develop an open-source curriculum to complement its technology. ÒWith any new tool, educators often have the burden of learning the technology, so they can replicate it for students. We plan to support educators by creating an online hub to help teach the next generation about open-source technology,Ó Aronson said.


Courtesy of The Robot Report. For more information, visit www.therobotreport.com.

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