Water your plants while on vacation

By Mayukhini Pande| Express News Service | Published: 11th September 2018 10:44 PM

HYDERABAD : Picture this. You’re holidaying in the Maldives. Your plants are taken care of by a watering system that is smart enough to know the difference between thirsty herbs and dry-loving cacti, and avoids watering outdoor plants on rainy days. It even sends you updates every morning on how your green babies are doing. Excited? Skeptical? Whichever way you swing, the seeds of smart gardening are already sewn.

What is Smart Gardening?
In marketing parlance, even a timer-based watering system is smart. But a hard-core techie would contest that it is smart only when it has some intelligence, at the very least, collects some data around your plants ­—how much light are they receiving, how moist is the soil, is it going to rain today? It becomes a tech gardener’s dream come true, if the device can also take some actions based on this data - like releasing fertilisers when soil nutrients are low. 

Measuring is easy. Interpreting is not
It is easy to set up systems with smart sensors that measure all kinds of things — soil moisture, light intensity, ambient temperature and humidity. Most DIY tech gardeners achieve this with relative ease. But the real challenge is to know what those numbers mean.  Is 40,000 lux of sunlight good enough for your Basil? Does 60% soil moisture mean you are overwatering your expensive orchids? Making sense of data for tens of thousands of plants across contexts is one of the biggest challenges of designing smart gardening devices. Currently, we lack a common plant database that can be referred to for interpretation, that tech gardeners can build upon — perhaps a linux of gardening.

Why does it matter?
If you’re an amateur gardener, who just can’t tell the difference between ‘moderate’ and ‘low’ sunlight, or between ‘over’ and ‘under’ watering, data-assisted gardening can help demystify plants and accelerate your learning. If you work hard but can’t really garden harder, garden bots can still make sure you wake up everyday to some greenery. Smart gardening can spread the joy of plants to people beyond the handful of passionate gardeners.  

Market Realities
We’re still at the very beginning of smart gardening. Most commercially-available devices are less than five years old in the market, with forbidding prices. The cheapest available smart pot costs $69 (approximately Rs 5,000) for one potted plant, making it more for hobbyists than masses. Whether consumers are going to pay more or how the products coming out are going to align better with what they value are still open questions.

Too smart?
As with all new technologies, smart gardening comes with its own philosophical dilemma - how smart is too smart? With devices that make plants mobile, ostensibly to chase the sun, but against their evolutionary habit, or devices that make plants dance to demand water, it seems there might be such a thing as taking it too far.(The author is co-founder of greenopia.co)

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