Garden Automation: State of the Art Part 1

Good food can be expensive to buy, but relatively cheap to grow. However, gardening is expensive in terms of time and labor. I’d like to grow my own food throughout the year, but a full time engineering curriculum doesn’t enable time consuming hobbies. So, I thought I’d apply what I am learning and use technology to do the gardening for me.

As often happens when an idea is new, I thought I was the first person to think of this; and as often follows, I found out I’m not. Many people are working on different aspects of automated gardening. Fortunately for me, being the very first to think of something is not very helpful. I have the opportunity to observe how others have attempted to solve the same problems I will have to address. My technology will benefit greatly from analysis of its precursors. This is the purpose of this series of posts: an analysis of the existing automated growing solutions. There are 23 I have identified, so I’ll break them up. I will be bullet pointing the strengths and weaknesses of each. In this post we’ll look at Click & Grow, Mocle, Niwa, and Plant-in City.

Click & Grow: $79.95 – 129.95 in depth review at cnet.com

click & grow herb garden

click & grow smartpot

The good:

these things are very well designed. They do almost all of the work, ad they look good doing it. You just pick your produce when it’s ripe. Though, they are not necessarily bulletproof. check out the in-depth review linked above for a possible problem with indoor pests. The herb garden even has its own grow light.

The bad:

This system doesn’t help people interested in good old fashioned plant-in-soil gardening. Since the system is self-contained and small, you are limited to producing small fruits and herbs. The growing plan can’t be altered. There is very little you can do to interact with the plant’s growth, if you are interested in doing so.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, this is a good solution for fresh herbs. It looks great and can grow herbs right in your kitchen. Click & Grow takes a small section of the market for garden automation, leaving room for systems that allow larger scale food production.

Mocle: price unknown

Mocle Farm Smart Garden Aquaponic plant pot system

I couldn’t find much information about this product. On the site it claims it is an aquaponic system with fish in the reservoir below the plants. It’s an interesting design, but since it is hard to find how much it is or more information about the system, I’ll move on to other systems.

Niwa: ~$200-$300

The good:

Niwa is beautiful designed. The system is bigger than Click and Grow, so you can grow some bigger plants. The smartphone app looks sleek and intuitively designed. Niwa offers a lot of control over the growing environment, and the pictures that form a time lapse are very neat!

The bad:

Niwa is very self-contained and lacks a certain amount of variability or input for more experienced gardeners.  The design is not scalable and is limited in what produce can be grown.

Conclusion:

Niwa looks great. It seems like a quality product and would probably be worth the money. In the end, Niwa seems like it could produce nice additions to your meal: some tasty tomatoes or chili peppers. You won’t be making a big difference in your food budget though.

Plant-in City:

The good:

I included this one because it just looks cool. It isn’t really intended for food production. It’s an art project, but the modular and configurable design is very interesting and could easily be applied to some sort of indoor food garden system.

The bad:

It’s not intended for food production, which is it’s major limitation in terms of my goals. Like I said, I’d like to play around with the idea for edible plants.

Conclusion:

Though this is not intended for food production, it is an interesting idea to make a contained system that is modular. I’m thinking something like a bunch of niwas that you can slide or stack together.

All of these systems could be classified as domestic novelties. That is, they don’t have any outdoor applications. However, my main critique is that none of them are able to be scaled to increase food production. One exception might be the Plant-in City, but it currently has no food application. These products’ lack of scalability gives them more of a novelty value than an actual productive one. Of course, their intended application isn’t to provide a substantial amount of food, so it’s no fault of the companies. I am critiquing it from the perspective of the goals for my project, which is to provide a substantial amount of food. In the next post, I’ll review some technologies which aim to automate larger scale food production.

 

 

 

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About jordamil

Welcome to my laboratory.
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