Bitponics Automates Gardening For Brown-Thumbed Plant Killers

By Erin Griffith , written on June 8, 2012

From The News Desk

Gardening is equal parts art and science. And if you're a busy, forgetful urban dweller, it's also as disappointing as it is rewarding.

Amit Kumar, a developer at an ad agency and avid gardner since the fourth grade, saw the ways new hardware products like the Nike Fuel band have connected data and computing with real life activities. For the last year, he's been plotting a way to bring that idea to plants.

The resulting product is called Bitponics. It's a wifi-enabled device for hydroponic plant growers that tracks a plant's progress, keeping you up-to-date on when it's time to flush or refill your reservoir, what lighting schedules are best, which pH range is safe, which nutrients are appropriate, and the ideal water and air temperatures. As it turns out, gardening is much more complicated than overwatering or underwatering.

Kumar got into hydroponic gardening when he moved to Brooklyn; the lack of direct sunlight or room for big beds of soil in his apartment made his hobby a bit difficult. A software developer by day, he started investigating hardware development for an automated plant monitoring system through classes at 3rd Ward and NYU's ITP program.

There he met his co-founder Michael Zick Doherty and learned about Arduino, an open-source micro-controller that's partly responsible for the recent uptick in hardware startups. The controller makes hardware design and development extremely simple, Kumar says, and so the barrier to starting a hardware company much lower.

That hasn't changed venture capitalist's aversion to the category. Kumar, like plenty of other hardware startups including Pebble watch and various other iPhone cases and robots, has taken to the crowdfunding platform to get to its initial launch stage, planned for the end of the year.

The company this afternoon crossed its $20,000 Kickstarter target, the campaign ends on Monday. The money will allow Kumar to go part-time at his day job and order a trial manufacturing run with a factory in Brooklyn.

Although Bitponics doesn't plan to outright court the obvious target market -- the possibly-high growers of a certain illegal, hydroponic plant -- the product seems perfectly aligned with their lifestyles and interests. "It will be a big segment for us," Kumar says, "but we won't cater to that."

The goal is to make gardening easier for everyone. It's a passion for Kumar because of the different pace of life. "It teaches you to perceive time six months at a time," he says. "You can't rush plants."

Bitponics devices connect to computers, so users can track the progress of their plant online. Through a dashboard, they can customize a growth plan based on their environment and plants, or choose an existing plan out of Bitponics' growth plan library. He sees his project as part of the "hacker, tinkerer, and maker" movement, since users can contribute their experiences to the pool of shared knowledge and learn from each other.

"We're creating a community around growing knowledge," Kumar says. Currently there is no structured information out there for hydroponic gardeners. There's no smart growth tracker in the market, either. The best comparable solution is a $1,200 system that still doesn't have the ability to plug into a computer, he says. Bitponics systems will cost around $395, but if you donate to the Kickstarter campaign before it closes Monday morning, you can get it for $250.