A Digital Twin For your Edible Yard

Andrew Shindyapin

Andrew Shindyapin

November 28, 2018
A Digital Twin For your Edible Yard

I am incredibly excited to start on the specs and the design of an app for planning, installing, and maintaining your edible yard. I’ve had the idea for this app brewing in the back of my mind for a few years now. But recently, a few events conspired to spur me on to bring this idea to the forefront and start working on it.

As I started writing down my thoughts into a requirements document, I realized the ultimate goal is to make this app into a digital twin for your edible yard. What the heck is a digital twin, you ask? A digital twin is a term for a virtual representation of a physical product, often made as a 3D model and virtually tested before the physical counterpart is manufactured. Currently, digital twins have been developed for big, expensive physical products such as jet engines, power plants, oil refineries, and others. I have found this video to be a good, concise explanation of the digital twin concept.

So, what would a digital twin for your edible yard look like, and how would it prove valuable? I have categorized the cycle into three stages: planning the edible yard, installing the food systems (either in stages or all at once), and maintaining and improving the result.

Planning the Edible Yard

Currently, the edible yard process begins with observing and planning your edible yard. The app would help you do this process by observing the patterns, and recording them: how do the sun and shadow illuminate and shade your yard, respectively? Are there any low spots/depressions that cause the ground to become soggy or have standing water in them? Perhaps your climate is dry except for the rare periods of rain, and an irrigation system is required. The app will allow you to record your observations, making it easy to add your recollections and then go back and update them with actual observations over time. Later in the future, a lot of these observations will be automatically added from various weather sources (aloha NOAA!).

As soon as you record the minimum observations, you will be able to begin planning. The app will show you the plants that will do well in your hardiness zone and climate, as well as where they might be optimally placed based on sun/shade and water requirements for each plant, possible companions, and a guild for it. You will be able to see your edible yard before you plant it, and make it beautiful.

Installing the Edible Yard

However, even the most beautiful, plentiful edible yard plan will leave you hungry and disappointed if you don’t actually implement it. The app will have several features to help you do so. A “Make it So” button will get you in touch with local edible landscapers who can review your plan and install the fertilizer, mulch, and plant the plants to make it a reality. If you are more of the Do-It-Yourself type, the app will give you prompts about when to prepare the ground and plant each plant.

Maintaining and Improving the Edible Yard

Once you start carrying out the plan (or have someone install it), the app will prompt you to continue observations as well as prune and harvest the plants at the appropriate times, and record that information in the app.

Later in the future, I can envision using sensors to record this information. If your food system is in a well-defined, relatively small space (such as a greenhouse, indoor system, aquaponics system, or a raised bed), fixed cameras would be appropriate to record progress and be used to alert you if anything is getting off-track. In your yard, I can see your automated drone being programmed to make a fixed-route round (at a regular interval, such as daily or weekly) and auto-updating your digital twin yard.

Further in the future, once the technology becomes available and affordable, robots will do all of the above, as well as the planting, pruning, and harvesting. But, until then, no amount of beautiful plans will help you if you don’t execute on them (as I mentioned).

This is where a gardening accountability and productivity group will be a huge help, and will be a component of the app. In fact, this is the most important part; a sufficiently motivated person can map out his or her yard using pencil and paper, or just a generic drawing program on the computer, and then implement it. How do I know? Because I did just that over the last few years.

Next Steps

So I invite you to join me and others interested in such a group. As accountability / productivity group members, you will get early access to the app (alpha, beta, and general release) and a voice in helping guide the app development. Once it goes beta, then general, I'll raise the price to $29 and eventually $49. However, I would like to keep the alpha group size small at first, and offer early pricing for those who sign up now. The first ten people will get in at $9/month, and be grandfathered in at $9/month forever.