Jason Aramburu was working on a Gates Foundation-funded project to help farmers in Africa by using a fertilizer technology that’s simultaneously increases food yield and helps reduce CO2 emissions. “We saw farmers working in near slave-like conditions, getting by on a couple dollars a day and working very hard to grow food in poor environmental conditions.” They wondered why there wasn’t an easier way; why could there eventually be technology that could effectively automate food production. As Jason put it, “why isn’t there just a box that grows food for you.” They also realized that the first step towards that vision is getting better data on fundamentals: automated soil intelligence.
That’s how Soil IQ got started. You haven’t heard much about them yet, but you can expect to. Their first product is already in production and will launch soon, initially targeting consumers and at-home gardeners. They are working with the CTO of Home Depot, who is an advisor to the company, and Yves Behar’s fuseproject, the famed designer associated with August Lock, OUYA and Jawbone.
I spoke to Jason about the origins of the company and he explained that once they realized that soil data was an opportunity, he and his partner, Luke Iseman, just dove in and started experimenting and prototyping.
When it launched, Soil IQ will be a 3-inch square soil sensor running on solar power and streaming data conveniently via cellular or Wifi. It will tell gardeners about their soil condition and suggest which seeds to plant and when. The current plan is that Soil IQ will include a year’s worth of service in the cost of the device and after that will charge a small annual fee. This is about more than graphing soil data in the cloud — they plan to include a seed delivery program as part of the service.
Technology in the garden is nothing new; every time a gardener rips open a plastic bag of fertilizer they are using a natural gas and ammonia technology that was developed over 100 years ago. Soil tests are popular, but expensive and inconvenient. Adding digital to the equation is a step-function up — akin to moving from dialup to broadband. There will be no looking back.
Connected-tech for gardening and agriculture is an emerging area, and we’ve seen other IOT garden sensor projects like the Lono Sprinkler Controller (live on Kickstarter now) and Greenbox Smart Irrigation launch on Kickstarter in the last year. Whereas those projects help with irrigation, Soil IQ is focused on sensors and data.
Similar projects include Easy Bloom and Flower Power — but (in ways their stealthy home page doesn’t reveal), Soil IQ may be the one to watch. They’ve thought through the usability (cellular’s ease of setup vs. bluetooth’s flaky connectivity), have brought on world-class designers (Yves Behar / fuseproject) and have built strong and relevant industry relationships (Home Depot).
Soil IQ on Angel List