Even the best gardeners manage to kill plants—which should be a source of comfort for apartment dwellers who struggle to keep a cactus hydrated. Both sets of growers, according to the soil scientist Jason Aramburu, would have better luck if they had more information about the plant soil. His new device, a sensor-app combo, claims to provide it, supplying data about dirt and weather conditions that can be used to keep plants alive.
Dubbed Edyn, the device launched on Kickstarter last week and exceeded its $100,000 crowdfunding goal in a few days. It’s the latest addition to the Internet of Things, the expanding category of Web-connected gadgets that let users monitor everything from their home thermostats to rising water in their basements. Inserted into the ground, the solar-powered gadget sends an electrical current through the soil that is either altered or attenuated by water and soil additives such as fertilizer, lime, or compost. That data is sent to the cloud, where it’s cross-referenced with information in scientific and weather databases and then converted into gardening instructions delivered to a gardener’s phone.
Arguably, such a tool has existed since the dawn of man. It’s called the finger, and, combined with experience plus some trial and error, has served farmers well for ages. But that original digital test has significant limitations, Aramburu says: It gauges only moisture and doesn’t provide a sense of anything else that’s going on beneath the surface. To get more precise readings, you could send a soil sample to a lab for analysis, a process that can take three to four weeks, or buy a sensor used by big agriculture, which costs about $2,000. Edyn can be preordered for $99, or $159 with a sprinkler valve.
Arambaru came up with the idea for Edyn a couple of years ago while working with farmers in Kenya to make organic fertilizer from charcoal. “They were using some of the same farming practices that their great-great-great-great grandparents used,” he says, “but in our changing climate, those practices weren’t the best ones to be using at that time.” Developing new standards—and communicating soil data to his sponsors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—was difficult without sophisticated equipment. After that, he says, he decided to develop his own sensor to measure everything from temperature, light, pH, and fertilizer levels.
To turn his research into a marketable product, he partnered with Yves Béhar, whose firm, fuseproject, has designed Sodastream, the OX laptop, and Jawbone. Béhar was immediately taken with the project and became an investor in the startup. The device’s form is elegant and unobtrusive, meant to spring from the ground like a big yellow flower rather than the piece of hi-tech equipment it is.
Traditionalists might argue that half the joy of gardening is engaging with nature and, quite possibly, getting away from their screens. But Arambaru insists that Edyn won’t separate people from the soil. “We wanted it to be something that helps you build more of a connection with your garden,” he says. And that includes providing an app-controlled valve for watering plants even when you’re away. “One of the biggest gripes of gardeners of all skill levels is just remembering to water,” Arambaru says. “The thing is, automated traditional sprinklers aren’t smart; they operate on a preset schedule. That means you end up wasting a lot of water.” Conserving resources is certainly another way to strengthen a connection with the environment.