by Andrew Dunn
Automation and computer-aided design are shaping the future of vegetable gardens. With the advent of design as a service gardens and robotic rose trimmers, weekends spent working in the garden will be more productive and personalized.
Gardening is proven to be healthy and joyful, but as more of us are discovering the joys of working in the garden for the first time, some basic knowledge about plants, landscaping and soil is needed to get started. . What, where and when to plant, for example?
These are some of the fundamental questions that the co-founder of the start-up Draw Me A Garden (DMAG), Florent De Salaberry, realized were preventing more people from delving into the subject.
“A lot of people want to garden, but a lot of us just don’t have the expertise or the confidence to start,” said the French tech entrepreneur.
DMAG is an app and website that offers bespoke 3D plans for garden design. It helps budding gardeners easily transform any plot into a beautiful, long-lasting garden.
The inspiration behind the company name comes from the children’s book “The Little Prince” in which the prince asks the narrator to “draw me a sheep” to start a conversation and build a relationship.
De Salaberry says “Draw Me A Garden” uses digital tools in a similar way to help people connect with nature in their gardens.
The DMAG service helps customers imagine the garden of their dreams by providing them with creative ideas, planting advice and, above all, by delivering all the plants to their doorstep.
Giving customers ownership of their creations is what sets DMAG apart from traditional landscaping, argues De Salaberry. “We know that if you’re only paying people to landscape your garden, not only is it very expensive, but it’s also hard to be proud of,” he said.
“DMAG aims to make gardening easy and affordable, and to provide the resources to enable customers to be at the heart of their own projects.”
Customers locate their garden online via a satellite map. Next, they list the pre-existing elements such as a terrace or a children’s play area, and then select a preferred garden style, such as an English or Mediterranean country garden.
Behind the scenes, DMAG’s algorithm uses these inputs along with local knowledge (soil type, elevation, sun direction) to map out the perfect garden design. Customers can view the design using 3D mapping tools on the DMAG website.
A qualified landscaper takes over the design process and the client is given a number of planning options to think about.
The results come back almost instantly. “The idea was always to allow customers to do it wherever and whenever they wanted and it only takes seconds to pick up the first design,” said De Salaberry.
Once other small improvements are made, a 3D view is rendered, and customers can sit and wait for all the plants and growing instructions to be delivered.
A typical delivery may include between 200 and 300 plants. These come with biodegradable cardboard scaffolds cut to the exact size of the garden and instructions to help gardeners plant them.
So far, the DMAG team has supplied gardeners of all kinds in France, Belgium and Luxembourg, with an average outlay of around €1,500.
De Salaberry likens his turnkey garden concept to how IKEA revolutionized kitchen design.
As they look to expand this work to new countries in the EU and the US, they hope many more people will soon be asking them to start their gardening journey and “design me a garden”.
If DMAG can help gardeners create the ideal future garden space, then the TrimBot2020 could be the answer to help maintain it.
The brainchild of computer vision and robotics expert Professor Bob Fisher of the University of Edinburgh, TrimBot2020 is one of the first robotic gardening devices that promises to do more than just mow the lawn.
Based on a modified commercially available robot lawn mower, the self-driving vehicle trims roses, trims hedges and shapes topiaries, all while automatically navigating the garden terrain.
To achieve this, the robot uses a ring of cameras to draw a 3D map of the garden, robotic snipers and a healthy dose of computer processing power.
“There are ten cameras that work together to build a 3D model of the garden, just like our eyes do,” Fisher said.
Together, these cameras help the robot get a 360-degree view of the garden’s complex terrain. The robot also matches what it sees to a hand-drawn map provided by users.
On command, the TrimBot comes to life by rolling towards the bush and scanning it to create a computer vision model of that particular plant.
“Once he has an idea of where all the rods are, his robotic arm comes out with the knife and he starts cutting,” Fisher said.
For the TrimBot team, the commercial target market is horticultural businesses responsible for maintaining parks, gardens and recreation areas.
In such cases, they think the robot can take on pruning tasks while the human gardener does something more difficult.
Although TrimBot’s commercial future is yet to be determined, the real benefits could still come from integrating the technology into the “brains” of the next generation of garden robots.
“Outdoor robotics is notoriously difficult,” Fisher said. Typical challenges include constant lighting changes, many shades of green, and variations in terrain.
Today’s robot mowers typically require users to mark off an exact area to be mowed and position a robot in the right spot to begin. TrimBot’s technology should allow tomorrow’s robots to solve this themselves.
“With the TrimBot project, we really demonstrated what might be possible in the future,” Fisher said.
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally publishedin Skylinethe European magazine for research and innovation.