At the height of the pandemic, Ethan Rublee and his family left California's high-tech area Silicon Valley for a small plot of land in Watsonville, California, where they started a new life in farming. Inspired by his background in robotics and the local growers he met, Rublee soon set out to build multi-purpose robots affordable for even the smallest farms, which is when farm-ng was founded.
During one of the first deliveries, the team was asked what to call the robot when a mechanic shared how it helped him like a friend, "Este es mi amigo" (This is my friend). However, one of the women on the farm noted that there were enough guys around already. Her comment "Esta es mi Amiga" stuck, and the name Amiga was born.
Flexibility to change settings
The farm-ng Amiga is an all-electric, modular platform with attachments like lifts and motors. "Farmers can add or modify common tools to suit their specific needs and change the machine's dimensions to fit in orchards or over rows of varied widths," says Ethan Rublee, farm-ng's founder. The design allows for easy feature updates. Innovations on one farm are shared with others, compounding every user farm's value of the robot. With each delivery, field workers and farmers seem to change the Amiga by adding tools or tables to help with the difficult jobs at hand. Users have 'hacked' tools for weeding, harvesting, and other tasks essential for the farm, and farm-ng has commercialized many and has made them available for the greater industry.
In August 2022, the Amiga Brain was released, adding features like autonomy, object recognition, device control, and crop data collection. Just last month, the Amiga was awarded Innovation of the Year by the Community Alliance of Family Farms for its sensible design and ease of use. "The premise of helping small farmers has started to become a reality," Rublee commented.
The Amiga data capture platform characterizes lettuce for Axis Ag in Yuma, Arizona.
Indoor vegetable farms have enjoyed the new platform. In addition to the benefits of being electric and quiet, eliminating noise and exhaust fumes on the inside of glass and plastics, the Amiga is small and maneuverable, piloting around support poles and working to the end of the house without needing turn around space. Outdoor veg growers have utilized the platform for food safety preharvest sampling, weeding, and even small plot seeding and phenotyping.
Researchers and farm service providers have also found the machine valuable. A machine that fits in the back of a pickup truck that's both flexible and quiet allows interns and researchers to do small-scale work in a variety of locations easily. Amiga is also being used by seed companies testing future commercial genetics in various locations to prove viability and tease out growing instructions. "The Amiga helps to efficiently replicate large equipment work on a smaller scale."
What lies ahead?
Over the next four months, more than 15 universities from across the U.S. will develop solutions in a competition. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) has issued a nationwide challenge, utilizing Amiga's open-source software and configurable platform to help farmers. Farm-ng and UC ANR support collaboration between students, farmers, and their communities to solve real problems that wear and tear on a farmer's body and consume valuable hours.
Lunar landing missions
"Much of the funding to support early development has arrived from farmers seeking help as well as typical venture funds," shared Rublee. In addition, farm-ng has also found related contracted work using their technology in lunar landing missions. The essential vision of robotic navigation needs of agriculture also happens to be essential in landing on the moon. "It is another application of the benefits of space exploration on everyday life on Earth," added Rublee.
The team at farm-ng has grown and represents a unique mix of agriculture experts, AI pioneers, and engineers from top technology companies. "By combining cutting-edge innovation with practical know-how, we are trying to make a real difference for farmers and their communities." Whether designing new robot attachments or software to land NASA rockets on the moon, farm-ng is helping to create a more efficient, equitable, and sustainable future for agriculture. When asking Ethan about the future of the Watsonville, California-based farm-ng and their robots, his only comment was, "I am not farming yet. I guess there is more to do."
Today, 50+ Amigas are used in the US in ag and educational settings. In addition, the Amiga was demonstrated at the Lleida Fair in Spain in September 2022 and will be available in the European Union in the coming months.
Follow me autonomy avoids box lugging and increases productivity at Jacobs Farms in California.
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