How soon until we can get robots to tend our gardens?

Science Friday
Edyn's "smart garden" technology.

Edyn's "smart garden" technology.

Edyn

For garden enthusiasts, spring means planting, fertilizing, watering and possibly researching to what extent, and when, to do all of those things. But there’s a growing market of sensors, smart hose attachments, and even robot lawnmowers vying to help you with such chores. These devices and apps can monitor soil temperatures, send you notifications when it’s time to water, and even do the watering for you.

“Gardeners love to be in their garden, experience the beauty of a garden in full bloom. They're not so crazy about all the work that's required to do that,” says Jason Aramburu, an ecologist and CEO/founder of the garden tech company Edyn.

Aramburu got the idea to create smart garden technology while working in Africa in a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation program designed to help farmers improve fertilization usage and yield. 

“What was really interesting to me was that a lot of those farmers had second jobs. They were teachers or they worked in a store or something and I thought to myself, you know, maybe this is an interesting model for the developed world. Maybe we can all have normal day jobs and grow some of our own food in our spare time,” Aramburu says. 

His company now produces a garden sensor that measures temperature, humidity, light, moisture and soil nutrition. The sensor is paired with a smart water valve that automatically waters plants when the sensor indicates they need it. When your garden needs watering, the device can send an alert to your phone with the use of an app.

This technology has been used by commercial farms already, but Aramburu wants to bring the innovation to consumers with small backyard gardens. 

“We designed [our technology] not to get in the way of the gardening experience but really to augment it and create a totally new experience,” Aramburu says. 

Edyn isn’t the only company designing smart tools for the home gardener. Andrew Gebhart, an associate editor at CNET, says the world of garden gadgetry is growing fast. 

“We've got plant sensors, we have sprinklers, we have robot lawn mowers. And right now what we're starting to see is some of these things are starting to work together,” Gebhart says. “A sprinkler system that communicates with a couple of plant sensors … and some of these devices even communicate with your smart home on a larger scale. So if your Nest Protect senses smoke it can turn your sprinklers on, which is pretty cool.” 

Gebhart says smart gardening tools aren’t meant to ruin the gardening experience many home owners enjoy. 

“Most pieces of the process are still intact,” Gebhart says. “You're still going to have to plant yourself, you're still going to have to fertilize yourself ... A lot of pieces of the smart garden are taking away the menial tasks like watering and remembering to water and they can help you also keep track of that by making a calendar for you. So it's more like a smart garden assistant. The smart garden certainly isn't at the point where it's ready to take over your garden for you.”

This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI's Science Friday.