An Extra Set of Hands for Insect Farming: Artificial Intelligence for Ag Tech #ai4ag

“This prototype taught us that the future of farming will be defined by the way that AI supports the talented biologists, growers, and farmers of the ag industry in their work to put nutritious, delicious food on our tables.” #agtech #ai4ag
A development version of the BitBox with 8 relays and 8 sensor ports.

At Bitwater we build insect-rearing automation systems, including a broad-function environmental control box. 
We call it the BitBox. This post shows how we use the BitBox and Amazon Alexa to allow an entomologist to turn devices in the habitats on and off with voice controls to make servicing the units easier. It’s like an extra set of hands for a farm operator.

The BitBox integrates sensors and controllers to create programmable agricultural environments with commonplace heaters, humidifiers, and other tools.

The BitBoxes make it easy for our team to optimize the environment to grow crickets. The insects we grow, cricket, like it hot (90˚F) and humid (50–90%) and need different conditions over their lifetime. The BitBox makes this easy.

The BitBox also provides analytics on phones and tablets, alerts for problems like temperature that’s too high or a leak, and API integrations to third-party services — like Amazon Alexa. About a year into using our own IoT solution, we began to realize that environmental controls were just the beginning.

Artificial intelligence in agricultural technology (#ai4ag) will revolutionize the way farms operate. A few examples where AI will play a transformative role: genetics, robotics, image analysis, quality and safety and human-to-equipment interaction. People will be able to talk to tractors and get real time feedback. Farmers in a truck will be able to ask their drone to go check out something suspicious in a field and get a real-time video feed moments later.

To showcase this future in a way we could share publicly, we integrated Amazon’s Alexa into our BitBox system. Now we can turn lights, pumps, etc. on and off with voice controls. This comes in handy when you are, for example, repositioning a mister nozzle and need both hands to turn the device on and off many times in a row. Until we setup this integration, that work required two people

This screenshot from the video below shows the basic setup. It’s an 
“old school cricket farm” made of plywood and cardboard, a BitBox and Amazon Echo device.

This video shows the integration working live and a brief description of how the habitat was built.

This is just one example. A couple other use cases for Alexa integrations that we think would be great:

Emergency Mode — sometimes equipment malfunctions and being able to declare an emergency mode that disables all equipment immediately will increase safety and reduce the time it takes to respond to a problem.

Note-Taking — when you are working inside of, in our case, giant insect habitats, it’s important to take notes on cricket health, equipment performance and other business-critical functions, but it’s hard to write things down. A voice-activated note-taker will be able to transcribe and report updates from the cricket care workers to our management team easily.

This prototype taught us that the future of farming will be defined by the way that AI supports the talented biologists, growers and farmers of the ag industry in their work to put nutritious, delicious food on our tables.

Do you have other ideas of how we can support people farming insects with voice controls? Please share at @bitwaterfarms #agtech #ai4ag.


This article was written by Sean McDonald, CEO of Bitwater. The company is developing insect infrastructure for agriculture — industrial equipment for producing sustainable feed and food with bugs.

Nerd note: We use Particle.io for our IoT cloud software stack and, for this video, we took advantage of their IFTTT.com integration and tied Alexa into our controllers.