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Hack Chat Transcript, Part 2

A event log for IoT for Agriculture Hack Chat with Akiba

The bits and bytes of growing food

LutetiumLutetium 05/16/2019 at 01:060 Comments

I think people fail to appreciate how difficult solar is to do right from a mechanical engineering standpoint. Those arrays have a HUGE wind cross section, and you need to handle the forces correctly. If you don't, people can end up dead quickly.

freaklabs5:13 PM
We initially started with things like soil moisture sensing. FYI, my specialty is wireles ssensor networks and I love collecting data

nerd.king joined  the room.5:14 PM

freaklabs5:14 PM
What I learned from that was soil moisture is hard to measure accurately and you actually don't need that much precision. Many times you can eyeball it.

freaklabs5:14 PM
truthfully a lot of the sensors and IoT that companies are trying to sell to farmers aren't very useful, especially if they go out in the field.

sadhana5:15 PM
I think with food computers its pretty good to zero in on the right chemical balances through rigorously tested results. Its hard to know exactly whats in organic fertilizer, that can create issues with consistency.

nerd.king5:15 PM
Have you thought about small scale robotics? We have a lot of Beyond Organic farmers in central Virginia and I have been working with a couple to apply robotics to some of their labor intensive tasks.

enatalio5:15 PM
@freaklabs > What's your ultimate vision for the data?

sadhana5:15 PM
Dirt varies quite a bit

freaklabs5:15 PM
for example, soil moisture sensors that get put in the soil are almost useless. the reason is the farmer needs to be able to till the soil after the crop is harvested. that means they have to pull up all those expensive sensors before they till. it adds more labor which is a no-no to farmers who are already labor constrained

matthewkleinmann5:15 PM
My solar is very small. One building is 100W and the other is under that. If I need real power like when I am building I will drag a generator out. I also have my home brew CO2 powered framing nail gun.

nerd.king5:16 PM
Should you be targeting no till operations then?

enatalio5:16 PM
@freaklabs > How about a drone with infrared. No need for physical sensors.

freaklabs5:16 PM
@sadhana : we invited one of the guys from MIT Media Lab to give a talk on food computers. it was interesting, but the final result is he's also interested in field growing.

matthewkleinmann5:17 PM
@Freaklabs if you are growing things in the ground, do you have an irrigation system? If you don't what is the point of monitoring the soil moisture unless you have a means of controlling it

@freaklabs - Doesn't that just scream for a tiller that can sample and measure the soil on the fly? And perhaps log the data along with GPS data as it works the rows?

freaklabs5:17 PM
@sadhana : I think soil-less and soil growing are two techniques of growing. we have no bias actualy and are experimenting with hydro as well as mist growing, and field growing

sadhana5:17 PM
It helps food computers to have field farming data to replicate the soil conditions, makes sense

freaklabs5:18 PM
@Dan Maloney : that's what the john deere tractors do, and I think that would be an interesting open source technology. We mainly owrk with indie farmers and if you look at their technology needs like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, many of them are not even on the bottom rung of hte ladder

matthewkleinmann5:18 PM
Again, you can measure and log but if you have no means of control it is kind of pointless, IMHO.

Jim Tittsler joined  the room.5:18 PM

freaklabs5:19 PM
From working with indie farmers, although its nice to have technology for automation, they actually need technology to generate revenue. basically many of them need help with basic business principles like marketing

matthewkleinmann5:19 PM
If you can afford anything green and yellow you are not here (smile)

freaklabs5:20 PM
we run python workshops and arduino workshops, but the most popular are media arts, ie: photoshop and video editing workshops since they can use them for marketing.

freaklabs5:20 PM
we also do weekly marketing workshops where we discuss marketing principles and how to market authentically

freaklabs5:20 PM
and get their stories out. many of the farmers we work iwth have really interesting stories, especially about their food.

sadhana5:21 PM
It would probably also help food computers to have global networks of spectrometers to replicate seasonal lighting conditions

matthewkleinmann5:21 PM
Marketing is the hardest part and some crops are boom or bust. Mushrooms are very bad that way. You get a flush all at once and you have a very limited amount of time to sell them.

enatalio5:21 PM
@freaklabs > In Japan? (workshops , etc...) is that right?

freaklabs5:21 PM
So one one hand, basic tech like photoshop, premiere proficiency is needed for revenue generation. then on the other, tech is needed for automation to reduce labor cost

nerd.king5:22 PM
@freaklabs Have you looked any of the Open Source Ecology stuff? They have been building all sorts of open farm equipment.

freaklabs5:22 PM
@enatalio yes: in Japan. we will put together acurriculum we can take on the road too. We want to do more collaborations iwth farmers abroad also

freaklabs5:22 PM
@nerd.king we were in contact with them for a bit, but haven't built any of their stuff yet

freaklabs5:23 PM
Re: automation, I think this is where a lot of the technology seems to focus on, especially in the news. This would be drone, ag robots, machine learning, etc.

enatalio5:23 PM
@freaklabs > Nice! How about a links to the info?

Alex Muir joined  the room.5:23 PM

freaklabs5:24 PM
We'll actually be posting all the workshop info on the github page. Some of it is already up there, but we're still evolving things. Basically anything developed at hackerfarm is open source, including workshop and technology

matthewkleinmann5:24 PM
Automation you are generally talking big ag though, not small.

sean5:24 PM
@freaklabs I'm interested in building a roving a drone that identifies and deals with weeds in beds. I'm starting to learn python and tensorflow for machine learning. Do you have any experience with something like that, or have heard of anyone else that would?

freaklabs5:24 PM
@matthewkleinmann : yes, and that's an important distinction. there's a growing digital divide beween industrial ag and indie ag.


https://hackerfarm.jp/

HACKERFARM

Home - Hackerfarm

Here at Hackerfarm, we host quite a few residencies with people that come through and ...

Read this on Hackerfarm

Jared5:25 PM
@freaklabs you found that the soil sensors have been less-than-useful. Have there been any bits of technology that have surprisingly added lots of value to what you guys are doing?

sadhana5:25 PM
I know what you mean about the booms and busts freaklabs. One of the biggest challenges I saw at a vertical farm was growing the right amount at the right time. Too much and it all becomes compost, too little and you upset distribution companies

sean5:25 PM
@Dan Maloney thanks for the link

freaklabs5:25 PM
@sean : yeah, actually we are working with a group sponsored by Sony on a weeding robot. It's being worked on by one of our robotics and AI specialists out here. they are sending an intern this summer. If you wan tto talk to him, let me know your contact details by PM and I'll introduce you

enatalio5:25 PM
@Dan Maloney > Thanks for the URL

sean5:26 PM
@freaklabs Awesome, thanks.

matthewkleinmann5:26 PM
I got my grapes from a vineyard for free that went to automated picking. They needed one plant removed from every row because the machine that does the picking could not turn the corners without hitting the fence. Humans could pick right up to the fence..

freaklabs5:26 PM
@matthewkleinmann : farmers that partner up in the monsanto, dow, or john deere community get access to their data and technology. those that don't....well don't

matthewkleinmann5:26 PM
They are all big $$. We are microscopic.

freaklabs5:26 PM
@matthewkleinmann : which is why there's a need for open source technology and even more, for training on how the tehcnolgy can be used in specific farming contexts

matthewkleinmann5:27 PM
The tech that will help the little guy, IMHO is almost all simple and low tech.

enatalio5:27 PM
@matthewkleinmann > Brains beats Buck$ anyday!

sadhana5:27 PM
Id really like to visit that some time :)

freaklabs5:28 PM
for hackerfarm, we're trying to standardize our tech workhsops on python for genral programming and C/C++ for Arduino. we are still looking at micropython for embedded but are on the fence at moment

freaklabs5:28 PM
@sadhana : thanks! we have an open house at the end of the month and have workshops, tours of the area, etc. people are invited to stay the night at our residency spaces :)

matthewkleinmann5:29 PM
Exactly how is python going to help you?

freaklabs5:29 PM
@matthewkleinmann : actually automation isn't that useful for farming. the real issue is that produce prices are so cheap because big ag has driven the price into the ground.

freaklabs5:30 PM
a useful analogy (for here) is electronics components. buying hand crafter artisan resistors is nice, ut you can get a 5000 piece reel for around $2

matthewkleinmann5:30 PM
You grow things you can use. We do more bartering than selling.

freaklabs5:30 PM
You can also get a quad core 64-bit processor for $5. so from that point of view, selling components is difficult if you dn't have the economy of scale

enatalio5:30 PM
@freaklabs > R U creating python libraries for ag work?

sadhana5:31 PM
I use raspberry pi running lighttpd and a javascript library for serial control of arduino to sense and actuate from the browser

freaklabs5:31 PM
what needs to happen is that a lot of farmers need to have some type of value-add. This is the differentiation which could be how the food is processed, how it's grown, or growing speficif types that are unavailalbe by industrial ag

enatalio5:32 PM
@sadhana > are you in Japan too?

matthewkleinmann5:32 PM
You need to see big ag. It is all high tech. But they have the acerage to make it reasonable.

@freaklabs - Good point! Fruit farms can do ciders and vinegars, apiaries can do mead, etc.

sadhana5:33 PM
Im in Colorado

matthewkleinmann5:33 PM
You should see the high tech dairy farms.

freaklabs5:33 PM
this is where the marketing needs to come into place. if a farmer that grows blueberries goes up against inddustrially grown blueberries, they will have a hard time competing just based on price. but if they sell handcrafted blueberry jam, they can usually increase their profit margins by a large amount. So we are trying to work with farmers to identify how they can move up that value chain rather than competing iwth industrial ag

freaklabs5:33 PM
the big problem with agriculture is it's devolved into a go big or get out mentality.

sadhana5:34 PM
Blueberries are difficult due to dormancy :(

freaklabs5:34 PM
many farms are tyring to go big, and taking on huge risks, and the smaller farms won't have the economy of scale to compete. it's turning into a gamble and the lifestyle is unsustainable. that's hwy there are less and less farmers

enatalio5:34 PM
@sadhana > Ah great to know. It's my 1st time here and would like to connect by other means. How do I reach out to you?

And don't discount the intangibles when looking at adding value. People will pay a premium for locally grown produce - if they're properly educated.

matthewkleinmann5:34 PM
You can also do u picks or sell them on being better. Welches sells a lot of jam. And they are hard to sell to. From on the plant to in the plant in under 2 hours I think my friend said.

freaklabs5:34 PM
@sadhana : PM me here and I'll get back to you

freaklabs5:35 PM
@sadhana : hard to talk with my screen scrolling so fast

sadhana5:35 PM
Will do

matthewkleinmann5:35 PM
@sadhana in Colorado you have a lot of high profit crops you can grow and barter with.

freaklabs5:36 PM
its actually fascinating because within agriculture, you can hit a good balance of cutting edge technology and old-world knowhow.

freaklabs5:37 PM
I think there is no problem to attract young people into agriculture, which is what eveyrone laments about. There needs to be training in technology within the context of agriculture, and in exchange they work in our fields. this is forming the basis for our residency program

matthewkleinmann5:37 PM
With ag, unless you are growing indoors you have very little control over things. You can do a lot of measuring but at the end of the day, if you get no rain, or too much, or a late in the season freeze etc...

freaklabs5:37 PM
You learn programming, electronics, and general technology in exchange for field work.

sadhana5:37 PM
Yeah definitelt Matthew

freaklabs5:38 PM
@matthewkleinmann : yes, that's the big problem with agriculture. if you're making big bets, ie: going all in on soybean, you don't know how the prices wil be at harvest. this is the problem with te soybean farmers and the tariffs iwth china. they lost almost the whole market for soybeans

freaklabs5:39 PM
@matthewkleinmann : in this case, it's manmade disaster, but the recent floodings and fires are also natural disasters tha tyou have to deal with. in many ways, farming is about managing risk, but in the current go big environment, the risk is multiplying

freaklabs5:39 PM
@matthewkleinmann : and we can see the result in increasing farmer suicides

Yves Quemener5:39 PM
hi, reading the backlog, happy to see I did not miss it totally

freaklabs5:39 PM
hmmm....sorry to rant and go a bit dark. it kind of bugs me

freaklabs5:40 PM
Hey Yves. So Yves is the AI and roboticist at hackerfarm

matthewkleinmann5:40 PM
And even the highest tech will not save you. Last year we had a false spring in the end of winter. All the apple trees started blooming and of course it froze again and killed all the blooms. We had just a few apples, but the entire state, and we are a big apple producer, was screwed that year. All the tech in the world could not make it stay warm.

freaklabs5:40 PM
and also runs most of the python workshops :)

enatalio5:40 PM
The threads are really hard to follow?

freaklabs5:41 PM
@matthewkleinmann : yeah, those are brutal. its interesting because i didn't fully worry about climate change until i got involved with farming

freaklabs5:41 PM
@enatalio : yeah, I need a longer screen...

@matthewkleinmann - Co-locate orchards with Google server farms?

matthewkleinmann5:41 PM
Climate change is very real.

matthewkleinmann5:41 PM
@dan na, bitcoing miners. (smile)

matthewkleinmann5:42 PM
oope, bitcoin miners..

I'm only partly kidding - moving shipping container server farms around to where heat is needed isn't a half-bad idea.

freaklabs5:42 PM
actually if I look at the weather data from the past 25 years in this area in Japan (from the Jpaan meteorological website) you can actually see the warming trends. its quite fascinating. its something I'd like to create a python data analysis workshop around

matthewkleinmann5:43 PM
The thing is the server farms pop up where power is inexpensive so that kind of limits where they like to be.

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