Q: How are we going to feed people on Mars?

A: Robots

If you’ve seen The Martian (and you should. Also, read the book), you will be familiar with the most expensive fictional potatoes ever produced in human economic history:

Humans are going to colonise Mars, and we’re going to need food. Using human labour to produce this food will be very expensive, due to a massive shortage of labour. What we need are robots that can cultivate and harvest food for us autonomously, so we can do more interesting things like exploring & doing science!

Enter the robot(s)

We’re building a farming robot. Well, maybe more than one.

Who is “we”? Me and Till von Ahen

The first milestone is to build a system with a robotic arm that can harvest a chilli plant. Current thinking is a uArm Swift Pro. The harvesting tool will probably be a 3D printed device.

Why chillies?

  • The plants are a desktop size (so I can use a desktop robotic arm)
  • The peppers are a different color which makes the computer vision part of the problem easier.
  • They grow well hydroponically

With a successful chilli system, we can go bigger to tomatoes (also a great candidate for hydroponics).

Why hydroponics?

  • Hydroponics use 98% less water
  • Lends itself to automation

Next steps

This isn’t a long post, just a “Hello World”.

In the next post I’ll expand on the approach we’re taking for the computer vision/ML aspects of the system.

I’d love to hear your comments/suggestions below, this is a new field for me and I’m learning.

You can follow me on twitter if you’re interested in updates.