As some people may know, I am a firm believer in robotic gardening – the idea that we could someday get food straight to the table with no human intervention or work at all is somehow relaxing to me. I look forward to the day when I own my own home, and have an army of robot gardens to create my dinners for me. Bliss.
Anyway – I’ve been thinking about how to go about this for a very long time, and some methods of getting started come to mind.
The first, and most obvious method, was a grid of rails, where my robots would travel around the various plots balanced on rails. The rails, in turn, would be on top of small 3 foot brick walls, which would be built into the ground. The walls would serve as plot separators, and also ballast for the rails. There would be one robot – a sort of swiss-army gardener – which could manage everything that needed doing.
A problem with this method was the sheer amount of work involved in digging the trenches, building the walls, and laying the rails. Also, if the robots are balanced on rails on both sides of the plot, then there is the added difficulty that plants grow, so the robot must be able to raise itself up or down to avoid trampling plants it’s travelling over.
The next method was to have a small army of miniature robots, each with a certain minium intelligence – knowledge of its own spatial coordinates, knowledge of what it is looking at, and so forth.
Again, extremely difficult. While that is the ideal solution, as far as I’m concerned, it’s just not feasible for the next few years – maybe after I’ve finished the first working gardenbot I’ll look at that again.
The third version is the one I currently like. It’s kind of like the first version, except there is no grid – just a load of parallel rails. In the image, you can see that there is one pair of rails perpendicular to the others. The well-drawn circles are robots, and this set of rails is how those robots get onto the rail pair that they need to be in.
This current idea has a load of specialised robots. The swiss-army version, while a great sci-fi idea, is just inefficient. As I plan on using energy as ecologically as possible in this project, lugging around a load of equipment that will not be needed on any one particular job is just wrong.
To combat the growing plants problem, the rails in this case are hung from a scaffold about 8 feet or so above the ground. The robots hang from the rails, raising themselves up or down as needed.
To reduce the amount of weight in the robots, transport will be powered externally. Each robot will be individually immobile, but easy to push around. Each pair of rails will have a pulley system built in which will allow it to move a robot along the line to where it’s needed.
It’ll be fun!