Motorleaf is Nest meets Lego for next-gen agriculture

The world of agricultural technology, or agtech, is rapidly evolving.

It’s automating laborious tasks and providing farmers and growers with greater knowledge and insight into their crops than ever before. As technology evolves so does the needs of the farmer and the growing environment. Around 20% of the world’s food production is grown within cities rather rural areas and inherent in this is the multi-billion dollar industry of indoor growing and hydroponics.

The industry includes $5 billion in urban farming in the US and $5.7 billion for legal cannabis production.

Agtech company motorleaf have released the world’s first wireless monitoring, motion detection and automated growing system for hobby and industrial growers. I spoke to CEO and co-founder Ally Monk to learn more.

According to Monk, the idea originated when as a keen indoor hobby gardener, motorleaf’s co-founder and CTO Ramen Dutta wanted to go on holidays and needed a system to take care of his plants in his absence:

“Ramen was going on vacation, but he had the problem of what would happen to his plants in his absence. He looked at the market and assumed there would be something like a smart home system akin to google Nest but there was nothing.  So he started making a HUB that could monitor what was going on and automate a range of appliances such as the water chiller and water level, air temperature, webcam, heating, and cooling. He soon realized that other indoor farmers were interested.

How motorleaf works

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The Heart

Motorleaf has created a system that can automate and monitor an indoor growth area with up to 5 acre coverage. Their hardware, described by some as “Nest meets Lego for agriculture” is designed to be plug-and-play, and the grower decides which part of their plant operation they control/monitor and automate. It consists of four modular units:

  • The Heart collects Air Temp, Humidity, & Light Level data. Users can connect any lighting hardware, and feeder pump- and start automating their operation in seconds.
  • The Power Leaf connects wirelessly to the Heart which tells them when to turn on and off, based upon pre-set times or sensor readings from the Heart and Droplet.
  •  The Droplet monitors everything that’s connected to a grower’s water reservoir. Every 4 seconds The Droplet wirelessly sends data to The Heart, information on water level, temperature, PH level, and nutrient levels.
  • The Driplet allows growers to automate the delivery of PH and Nutrients, again based upon timer setting or actual live grow conditions.

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The system is agnostic, retails for about $1,500 and contains free software which facilitates custom settings, so the motorleaf hardware will automate the grower’s equipment and adjust to their crop’s needs. It’s available online and offline as many growers do not have WiFi in their crop space.  It also alerts the grower to any problems that need attending to.

More importantly, it also involves intuitive efforts in predicting and anticipating the needs of the plants. Monk says:

“We’ve never been able to speak to plants but now through technology we can listen to them through their data, we can then understand what they need and feedback instructions to the equipment that’s looking after them so we can best serve their crops.

He also notes the many people’s depiction of the farmer outdoor engaged in manual labour as not entirely actually noting “The farmer of the future looks after his farm through his mobile phone and tablet.” He adds that indoor growers in particular have needs which can be more complex than traditional farming:

“When you start growing indoors you have to mimic nature, they have worry bout all the things they have to control indoors such as PH; nutrients, humidity, light, air temperature.  How are they controlling it? Switches, controllers, some software  and in many cases people are still using pen and paper. Urban farming is on the rise but the technology that looks after this is really lagging behind.”

Motorleaf is well-timed to respond to an emerging market. They receive receives 40,000 data points per customer per week and therefore can start predicting a crop’s needs, solving potential problems before they exist. Also, the start-up plans to use its network of data and growers to connect users to each other – on an opt-in basis – to share data, plant recipes and knowledge.

With the growth in indoor agriculture, hobby farmers and small to medium enterprises will soon benefit from effective IoT technology that enables smart crops and smart farming.

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