Updated: Jun 22, 2021
This is the Twisted Fields' "Acorn", which is a precision farming rover that is entirely open-source. Now here at Ottawa Valley Smart Farms, we're interested in all farming robots and any use of technology in agriculture, but we have a particular fondness or a particular appreciation for open source agriculture. Today's episode is really meant to look at a range of different open-source or micro farm projects. Acorn is the newest. This is something which I only learned about a few weeks ago, and it comes from an interesting organization called Twisted Fields. So we'll first look at Acorn, then we'll look at Twisted Fields as an interesting example of some of the open-source agriculture that's starting to emerge.
So as per usual, I am going to read the first few paragraphs here of the article. “Today Twisted Fields is proud to announce a project they've been working on for just under two years. Acorn is a precision farming Rover that they've developed in-house to aid in farming automation research. Acorn is solar powered, lightweight, and completely open-source.” We will go and look at their GitHub profile in a moment. Their plan is to “build a community around the Acorn system and get kits into the hands of early adopters as soon as possible, and work with the community to develop tools that can help make sustainable agriculture automation a reality for even very small and medium-sized farms. Twisted Fields thinks that precision farming rovers like Acorn can be used to fight climate change, make healthier food for all, and protect farm workers in our communities from overuse of harmful chemicals.”
Twisted Fields is making the whole project open-source, so that others can help improve the design, and start their own businesses supporting their work. They believe that this is the best strategy for making this technology functional, low cost, and accessible for all. That's a really important point that I think is worth emphasizing, because Ottawa Valley Smart Farms not only supports open-source agriculture, but we also support commercial models based on open-source agriculture. Part of the assumption here is that agriculture is so large, so diverse, right? Wherever you live, there should be people near you growing food, and they should be growing food in a sustainable way that not only encourages and incentivizes them to grow that food, but makes it even easier for other people to enter the market.
So on the one hand, what is encouraging or fascinating about a robot like Acorn, is that because it's open-source, any farmer of any size can start experimenting with the machine. Further, because it's open-source, any company can start supporting, servicing, and promoting this equipment to the farmers in their area. That's part of our interest in Ottawa Valley Smart Farms, is that we want to find open-source tools that we can support in our community, but we also want to encourage other communities to adopt this kind of decentralized open-source agriculture, so we can really push back against the big agriculture companies and the big technology companies and make agriculture as a whole more accessible. That's part of the theme of today's episode, but when looking at Acorn as an example, I think it illustrates the potential for robotics in agriculture.
So let's take a closer look at their video so that we can get a greater sense of just what acorn and Twisted Fields are capable of, or what their plans are moving forward. Now generally, the purpose of these rovers is to allow for the types of crops you'd have on a field in terms of having them as rows, and allowing the rover to go through and analyze. If there's weeds to analyze, if they need nutrients, to get a general sense of the health of the plants. What's interesting about this farm is it doesn't resemble your sort of typical industrial or factory farm, but instead reflect some more regenerative agriculture, agroecology farm in which you're having multiple crops kind of working together. The other interesting thing about this demo is that it's showing rows, which are not straight, which are curved, and still the rover is able to handle them. Now, this is meant to be a sort of prototype, more advanced robots like this will have some sort of clippers, right? The ability to remove weeds in real time. Let's stop and change the playback and listen to our friend here from Twisted Fields.
Taylor Alexander (Video):
One of the things we want you to know is that acorn is now completely open-source. We just released all of Acorn's design files, the electronics design files, the mechanical files, and all of the software. That's all on GitHub right now. You can find the link on our community page at community.twistedfields.com. What we're going to try to do with Acorn is make it a community supported project over time, but what we want to do right now is build up that community of users, people who are interested in Acorn and want to know more. Please subscribe to our YouTube channel and click the bell icon next to the subscribe button. That'll make sure you get every one of our videos, and then go to our community site, community.twistedfields.com. The link is in the description as well, and sign up for free to join the discussion. Thanks!
So I just want to take a brief moment to look at their GitHub page. This is where they've put their documents for the project. The Acorn precision farming rover, the Acorn mechanical designs and the Acorn robot electronics. Let's take a look at their website, community.twistedfields.com, which is basically a forum. It's got a fair amount of activity. We will join and participate in this community and sort of follow along with their efforts. I mean, it still does appear as if it's in the early days, but I think what's interesting about Twisted Fields and their Acorn project, Sharita Ryan pointed out it's solar powered. It's also fairly small, and one of the things we'll do here as part of Ottawa Valley Smart Farms is we'll explore the kind of growing world of agricultural robotics, and there's competing philosophies.
I mean, on the one hand, there are those who are building huge monster robots that kind of evoke the monster tractors and combines that a lot of large farms use, but is that environmentally friendly? Does that limit compaction of soil, does that make it easy to have diverse farms instead of industrial farms? That's where smaller robots may have greater potential, partly because you could have a fleet of these robots, and you could have these robots working in tandem, especially if you did want to work in a large farm. But it also makes them accessible, and more affordable so that people who are smaller farmers are in a position to get started. While a lot of agriculture focuses on big business and big farms, we at Ottawa Valley Smart Farms feel that the future of farming is in micro farms - smaller farms that are more accessible, can be more environmentally sustainable, and can allow for greater biodiversity in terms of the way in which those farms are managed.