Gardening for All Ages: Engineer’s Kid-Friendly Robot Removes Weeds, Detects Plant Health
Kerala engineer Prince Mamman has built Gardro, an AI-enabled robot that can navigate the entire expanse of your garden and identify and terminate invasive weeds, track plant growth, and more.
Growing up in Kollam, Kerala, Prince Mamman recalls spending several hours helping his father on their vegetable farm, tending to the produce for an hour or so before his dad would head to his textile store. This was his introduction to farming, he says, and the interest stayed long after he’d grown up and moved out of the house.
Prince says that the time he spent on the farm left an indelible mark on him — both for the way it allowed him to be close to nature, as well as for the memories he created spending hours with his friends, playing in the fields. So when he returned to his hometown during holidays as an adult, he found it surprising that there were hardly any children playing outside anymore.
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Most, he said, seemed to be engrossed in the virtual world.
“I see that children these days are not interested in farming or outdoor activities. They are just playing their video games or are addicted to social media. It’s difficult to engage them with nature,” Prince tells The Better India.
He says that as a growing economy, we need farmers. It’s why he wanted to invoke this interest in children. “It’s not only good for the next generation, but also crucial for our future,” he opines.
And that’s what his robot Gardro, which was built under the aegis of his company Freeman Robots, aims to do. This gardening assistance device….
‘Step outside, connect with nature’
Prince is a mechatronics engineer by training, having done his engineering degree from Salem College of Engineering and Technology. Alongside his love for farming, he always held a keen interest in building robots, he says.
“I saw a lot of robotic farming equipment being built abroad, and thought of building [something similar] in India. I’ve grown up seeing people farm, so I want to make their lives easier. The ultimate goal is to make robotic farms a reality.”
Beginning his work on Gardro in 2021, Prince worked with the aim of helping children “step outside, connect with nature, and develop a true love for gardening”. To sell the robot, he launched Freeman Robots in the same year.
Gardro is a battery-operated, compact robot that helps keep your garden weed-free, he explains. It weighs under 500 gm, and is 20 cm in length, 12 cm wide and 10 cm tall (height). It also comes equipped with a camera and an application. “You charge the robot and place it in one corner of your vegetable garden. Using our mobile application, we can set boundaries. As it is very small, it can manoeuvre under plants easily. It then identifies and terminates weeds.”
Gardening made easy
He adds that Gardro is equipped with advanced sensors and algorithms that also provide insights about plant health and growth. “We can monitor the plants live through the camera on the robot. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) that I have incorporated in Gardro will compare images of healthy plants with the live images we capture, giving insights on plant health. We will build a strong image database on our application,” he adds.
“As the robot moves, you get the live visuals displayed on your mobile. You can also convert the normal video into virtual reality (VR) with a single click,” he adds.
Through VR, the user can see the plants and flowers in a magnified view, says the 29-year-old, comparing the view to the likes of Ant Man, a fictional superhero who can shrink to the size of an ant and view the world from a small insect’s perspective. “That’s how one can view their garden too,” he says.
“It is a very interesting view for children too. It will help pique their interest in gardening. Through interactive displays or companion apps, they can learn about different plant species, understand their specific needs, and track their garden’s progress.”
Prince says the products will be ready to ship in the next six months, with each robot costing anywhere between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000.
Apart from children, he has devised this robot keeping senior citizens in mind.
“Gardro offers a chance for seniors to engage in gardening without the physical strain. Vegetable gardening is a very purposeful hobby, and I hope to make people realise that.”
Prince also recalls the challenges in building this robot and says, “Building a robot is capital intensive. I faced several financial difficulties, and though I quit my job initially, I had to return to find funds to build the device. I hope to find investors soon to set up a manufacturing unit.”
His purpose behind Gardro is to help people find joy in gardening the way he did. “This robot can help people of all age groups de-stress and enjoy. The younger generation can also explore planting different vegetables and fruits from the convenience of their homes.”
Edited by Divya Sethu
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