The Department of Education has recently purchased two Farmbots thanks to the Telstra and Cisco Alliance Sponsorship. FarmBot is a farming project consisting of a cartesean coordinate robot farming machine, software and documentation including a farming data repository.
The project is open source, which means users share and make additions to the hardware, software and documentation modifications. The bot essentially is a robotic arm that can plant over 30 different crops including potatoes, chillies, thai basil in an area of 2.9 meters × 1.4 meters. It can perform almost all processes prior to harvesting including sowing, mechanical weed control and watering.
It is potentially one of our most practical projects in the STEM space as it offers not only a multitude of varied learning experiences, but it produces something tangible, something consumable in a sustainable fashion.
The Farmbots arrived in Darwin late November 2017 and our plan is to present harvested vegetables from the dry season growing period at the 2018 Skills2021 to be held during the week of 6 – 10 August.
Since arriving in Darwin, there has been considerable interest from schools and partnerships have been formed with the Department of Primary Industry and Resources in Darwin and Katherine.
Our intended audience for engagement includes all school years and we are looking forward to a strong involvement from Kintore St School in Katherine along with primary, middle and senior schools across the NT.
A unique proposition is that students from any school in the Northern Territory and indeed beyond can contribute to the actual gardening activity because the garden planting, watering and weeding can be controlled from the Internet. Students in Alice Springs, Banyiala, Bulla Camp, Belyuen and beyond can log in, view, monitor and help the garden flourish.
With cameras overhead the plants and also covering the entire FarmBot plot, students, teachers, parents, visitors and scientists can engage with the garden from anywhere in the world.
We have two sites identified but not yet confirmed. One is in Darwin and the other is in Katherine.
At Berrimah Agricultral Research Farm the facilities to support the Farmbot are superb. Surrounded by traditional propogration plots, mist houses filled with a variety of trial plants, the FarmBot will certainly be at home in this location.
This plot is potentially one that can be used for the FarmBot. When we go through the construction phase and determine how waterproof the electronic components are there might be a need for some protection of those components.
There are two potential locations in Katherine. One is in the centre of Katherine near the training centre and the other is at the Katherine Research Station.
Customising the STEM experience
I am keen to explore taking the FarmBot off the grid and with an exciting solar initiative starting next year, I think there is an opportunity to explore the strong STEAM connection within that project to provide renewable energy for our FarmBot. Read more about that here.
Additionally, we are looking to see if integrating weatherzone recording data involving students will provide data collection and analysis opportunities. This would mean including a weather station at the site and configuring it to report data back.
Depending on how waterproof the components are will determine the level of protection in the form of structures like greenhouses we need to place around the FarmBot.
Another challenge is choosing the best plants for the experiment that grow well in the wet season and then in the dry season. Luckily Primary Industry already has this information which can be found in this growing guide and this one from Taste of the Top End.
Who are we looking for?
Growers, Makers, Gardeners, Inventors, Constructors, Recorders, Analysts, Programmers, Problem Solvers, Story Tellers, Educators, Marketers, Entrepreneurs, Manufacturers and more. We hope to inspire STEMpreneurs, people who can integrate their own STEM learning with creative and practical outcomes for the products of this endeavour.
We have a link to a draft document that matches learning outcomes in this space to the Australian Curriculum. This is currently only available as an internal document to ntschools staff.
There will more coming and
If you would like more information about this exciting project, drop us a line.
P: 8999 5861