At the height of the pandemic, Ethan Rublee left Silicon Valley to transition from robot builder to farmer in Watsonville, California. He was quickly confronted with the limitations of tractors and traditional farming equipment in critical tasks like weeding or harvest. The attraction to make it better captivated his mind and creativity.
Nearby neighbor, Larry Jacobs of Jacobs Del Cabo, grower of basil, cherry tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and squash, has had the same challenges for over 40 years. Larry’s diverse crops required a huge variety of tools and his team often found working without tractors more efficient.
Inspired the collaboration between Larry and Ethan to build something better. What has become the small farmers and farmworkers friend the farm-ng Amiga was born. Together with the continuous feedback of a tested customer a cost-effective, multi-purpose adaptable robot to the needs of farm was created.
Electric, Adaptable, Open-Source
The Amiga is an all-electric, modular platform with attachments for autonomy, traction, seating, and tools like lifts or motors. Farmers can easily customize attachments to fit their needs and adjust the machine’s dimensions for different row widths and heights. While its open-source design encourages collaboration among farmers, welders, and software engineers.
Field workers have personalized the Amiga for a range of tasks, including planting, seeding, harvesting, and other activities that are unsuitable for costly tractors or dedicated implements.
In August 2022, the Amiga Brain was introduced by farm-ng, offering features like autonomy, object recognition, device control, and crop data collection. By February 2023, the Community Alliance of Family Farms recognized the Amiga for its practical design and ease of use.
|“The AMIGA has become the go-to assistant for our crew. It began as a harvest helper, following the crew with packing materials and carrying the harvested crop out of the field. It has become a multiple use platform including a bug vac, compost spreader, flamer, 6-line seeder, and cultivation tool. This is the scale of affordable automation we’ve been looking for. It’s finally here.”|
Larry Jacobs, Organic Farmer & Founder of
Supporting Indoor and Outdoor Farming
The Amiga’s electric and quiet operation, compact size, and maneuverability makes it suitable for both indoor and outdoor vegetable farms. The platform has also been used for spraying, preharvest sampling, manual and mechanical weeding, small plot seeding, and phenological data capture. The Amiga’s flexibility and portability are particularly appealing to interns and researchers working on small-scale projects.
Agricultural Expertise Meets Space Travel
The Amiga also benefits from gps-denied navigation technologies developed by farm-ng, the company behind the Amiga, for landing NASA rockets on the moon. Precise lunar landings require vision navigation technology, which farm-ng has developed for agricultural applications. As Rublee explains, navigating on the moon shares similarities with working in an almond orchard from a roboticist’s perspective.
Public-Private Partnerships for Nationwide Deployment
In the coming months, universities across the U.S. will develop solutions using the farm-ng Amiga to benefit farmers. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR) has issued a nationwide challenge, co-sponsored by prominent tech and agricultural companies, to showcase these innovations at the FIRA USA conference in Salinas, California, from September 19-21 2023. “The goal of the challenge is not just to build the next robots in agriculture, but to develop the next generation of agricultural innovators.” said Gabriel Youtsey, creator of the UCANR challenge.
Today, more than 50 Amigas are operational across the U.S. in agricultural and educational settings. The rapid growth of farm-ng is supported by a diverse team of robotics experts and AI pioneers dedicated to building a farm-to-table food supply at global scale. When asked about the future of the Amiga and farm-ng, Ethan’s only comment was “I’m not doing all my own farming with robots yet, I believe there’s more to do.”