Jason Aramburu's first clever idea was Re:char, a social enterprise that helps farmers in Kenya make their own fertilizer. A soil scientist by training, Aramburu designed an inexpensive kiln that burns agricultural waste. The resulting biochar raises yields while saving money and sequestering carbon.
Now Aramburu has a new product to sell: an elegant soil probe that helps growers track their crops remotely. The product--called the Edyn Garden--measures humidity, light, temperature and soil conditions, and is the consumer equivalent of "precision" equipment now going into many farms.
Aramburu came up the concept while working on Re:char. The project, funded by the Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation, needed to prove that the charcoal-like substance was actually improving the soil as he claimed. The Edyn--which includes four sensors, a processing unit and a small solar panel--was designed with industrial designer Yves Behar, who is also an investor.
When you first put an Edyn into the ground, you need to hook it up to a Wi-Fi connection (a cellular version is planned for a second release). The system then detects your location and suggests suitable plants for your area, based on soil conditions, what other nearby people are growing, and historical weather patterns. You then select a plant type, and you're off. The app will alert you if the soil needs watering, or requires more fertilizer.
The Edyn incorporates off-the-shelf sensors for humidity, light, and temperature, as well as a soil condition sensor Aramburu developed himself. It sends small electrical signals into the ground, allowing the Edyn to work out water, fertilizer, and contaminant levels from conductivity measurements.
You can pre-order an Edyn for $99. Aramburu recommends one probe for every 200 square feet, or one for each watering area. Users can also combine the probe with an Edyn Water Valve, a device that connects to a hose ($159) and delivers water based on soil dryness. For more money, you can also buy a probe and valve and send another kit to a garden run by Slow Food International, a nonprofit that promotes authentic food.
Aramburu plans a full retail release in December, after which he'll look at options for getting the devices into the developing world. One possibility would be to lease the Edyn, so poor farmers don't have to pay upfront. "By going after the consumer market first, we can drive the price point down by getting more units into manufacturing," he says. "But it's still likely to be too expensive. My experience in Africa is that we'll either have to offer it as a service or finance it."