Get ready for gardening 2.0. PlantSense has launched its EasyBloom Plant Sensor today to help stop us all from neglecting our gardens. The sensor can monitor light, soil and humidity conditions. When you plug it into your computer, it uploads the data and PlantSense’s web site offers you precise gardening advice.
PlantSense is interesting because it is at the beginning of a wave of sensors that can be connected to the Internet. Most of the sensors that are in the experimental stage are expensive because they depend on wireless radios (from companies such as Dust Networks) to move data to a computer. But PlantSense doesn’t have a wireless radio; you manually pull it out of the ground and plug it into a computer via a USB port.
The sensor, which has been in trial testing for seven months, can be used in several ways. You can plug it into the soil near a plant to get an immediate reading on whether it needs soil. Or you can put it into the ground for 24 hours to get measurements of the sunlight pattern for the whole day, how well the soil retains or drains water, temperature, the wetness of the soil, and the humidity of the immediately surrounding air. This builds a picture of the plant’s micro-climate.
You can pull the sensor apart to reveal the USB port, which you can plug directly into your computer. It uploads data to your personal account on the EasyBloom web site. There, you can see the readings for all of the sensors you own and get professional recommendations. The advice is very detailed and varies widely, depending on the conditions. It comes from experts led by Robert Flannery, PlantSense’s senior horticulturist.
“It can do things like correct for lighting conditions on a cloudy day,” said Matthew Glenn, chief executive of PlantSense. “It’s like high tech meets the dirt. We want to make this as important a part of gardening as a shovel.”
If you type in the kind of plant you have, you will get “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” advice on things such as soil conditions for that particular kind of plant. PlantSense has partnered with Ball Horticultural Company, W. Atlee Burpee and the National Gardening Association to build a plant database of more than 5,000 plants that synchronizes with the EasyBloom Plant Sensor.
Glenn is a six-time entrepreneur whose last big hit was the wireless startup Airespace, which Cisco bought in 2005 for $425 million. He started the company in 2006 out of frustration with his own gardening efforts. The company raised $3.5 million from Gabriel Ventures and has 14 employees.
In 2007, Americans spent $35 billion on lawn and garden products, the largest amount since 2002, according to the National Gardening Association. But the Plant Institute of America says a third of all plants die within their first year of purchase.
The competition is sparse. On Amazon, you can also buy simple water sensors such as “Wormie the Water Sensor” from Cobraco and Plant Minder Sensors. But none are as sophisticated as PlantSense’s technology.
Each PlantSense sensor costs $59.95. It is available now at online retailers including Amazon.com, Buy.com, Frontgate.com, Burpee.com and Smarthome.com. On Nov. 10, it will be at Orchard Supply Hardware locations in California.