In keeping with the theme of innovation this month, the recent Kickstarter campaign for the Tertill weeding robot highlights two great example of innovation, not only for the product itself, but also the method in how the development of the project was funded.

The product

The Tertill is a solar powered waterproof weeding robot for home gardens. One of the drivers behind the development of the robot is Joe Jones. Joe was the inventor of the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner and founder of Harvest Technologies, the developers of Harvey the plant spacing robot which many in the industry have seen in use in the US.

The application of a small nylon string in a whipper snipper action manages weeds. The weeds are identified through height any plant smaller than an inch is dealt with. The user can protect wanted seedlings through the use of barriers or collars until such time as the plant is large enough. The wiper snipper action is supported by the use of the Tertills wheel design which lightly tills the soil as it moves across it.

The robot operates autonomously and is managed through the use of an app, which can provide users with reports of the Tertills activity and conditions in the garden such as weather. The Tertill is able to cover an area of approximately 9 square meters (100 sq. ft.) but does require a barrier such as a low garden border or fence to contain it in this area.

For the home gardener the Tertill promises to reduce the amount of weeding which is required. This is great for those time poor consumers who are not able to spend every day in their gardens or vegetable patch. It will help to improve the look of their garden and the results they get from it. Likewise the product also offers a chemical free approach for those consumers concerned about the use of herbicides and so appeals to safety and sustainability.

The method

The other part of this Innovation discussion is the Kickstarter platform. Beginning in 2009 Kickstarter was one of the first digital platforms to facilitate crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture through a large number of people. Crowdfunding as a concept is not new and historical examples include the funding of artistic endeavours donations to political parties or warbond drives.

Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter allow developers to access rapidly a wide pool of investors who invest funds into the development of products or services such as artistic endeavours in return for a reward to incentivise investors. This reward generally takes the form of an example of the product or service being developed. To access the site developers pay a fee of 5% of the funds received and another 3-5% goes towards payment processing fees. For investors or backers it should be noted that there are no guarantees for projects if they fail or are not delivered upon.

For the developers this process helps in a number of ways. Firstly it mitigates some of the risk of developing new products as funds are available before production. Secondly it also confirms that there is market scope for a product as a project which does not meet its funding goal within a specified time frame is not supported (known as all or nothing). And thirdly it provides an easy mechanism for marketing a product to a global audience.

A large number of platforms have since been developed to support crowdfunding, many with a niche focus, such as, which crowdfunds scientific endeavours. An example of a campaign on the platform with connection to the industry is an experiment focusing on how green city initiatives cool Baltimore.

Other niche crowdfunding platforms include which is focused upon fundraising activities and which is marketed at supporting artists in much the same way as patron would.

Crowdfunding platforms provide a large number of opportunities for developers and for investors, and the process will no doubt continue to gain support. For the nursery industry it will be interesting to see what opportunities are developed through such means.

Tertill Kickstarter Campaign - How do parks cool Baltimore?