Automating a Virtual Home : Adventures in Stardew Valley
With the utter whirlwind of absolute garbage going on in the world, sometimes it’s nice to retreat into unreality. Everyone has their own retreat, a place where their mind shuts off and glides – mine is management games. (Well, one of mine is management games.) For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than harvesting a million fake eggplants, or hamburgers, or trees, or whatever it is the game enables you to manage, and boy, am I satisfied.
Stardew Valley, as many of you may already know to be more addicting than most illegal drugs, is the perfect game for someone passionate about home automation, because it bypasses the main problem with home automation – the price. I can’t afford to fully automate and trick out my apartment, but in Stardew Valley, in the quaint, imaginatively named “2017 Farm” I am a mere baleful of wheat or shipment of milk away from being able to afford to automate my farm.
Disclaimer: I am not good at video games. I am not as far ahead in Stardew Valley as I am supposed to be, and I do not yet know all of the wonderful, magical things you can automate – which makes the amount of in-game automation I have discovered all the more impressive.
But, my regular post is about home automation, not about Stardew Valley – although if anyone would like me to talk about Stardew Valley at length, I will – so I’d like to bring together the magic of that game, and what’s actually possible in reality, and the first thing that jumps out to me is crop-watering.
You’re given the option of slowly and painstakingly watering your crops by hand, just like in reality, but as the basil on my windowsill knows very well, sometimes people forget. And for those people, there are a number of IRL options.
The Skydrop Sprinkler automatically detects how much it’s rained in your area before deciding if it should water your plants or not. As the average American household uses 30% of its water for lawn and garden upkeep, noticing and preventing water-waste is a huge bonus, and like the sprinklers in Stardew, the rain detection function limits the amount of work you have to physically do with your hands in order to achieve a hydrated lawn and garden.
Droplet is less like Stardew sprinklers and more like my Stardew wife Penny (who occasionally wakes up and decides to water all of my crops, but not my flowers), in the sense that it specializes its care to each plant, and delivers the correct amount of water at the correct angle and time to each individual plant, like a little water Roomba. Much like Stardew, you do get to pick what types of plants you have, and indicate to the little robot where those plants are by building a virtual map of your garden in the Droplet app. It uses its database of plant information to care for your garden properly.
Rachio I believe I’ve brought up before, because it can be integrated into your existing sprinkler system. It also pays attention to when it rains, and enables you to trigger your sprinkler system from your phone, or through Nest, or even the Amazon Echo.
I just recently was able to fully upgrade both my barn and my coop in Stardew Valley, which takes away my most time-consuming manual task: feeding my many animals. The fully upgraded barn and coop are equipped with auto-feeders, so now all I have to do is let my chickens know that I love them, and milk the cows.
In real life, I don’t have any chickens, or cows, and as much as I wish I did, my landlord would probably not love it. I do have two dogs, though, who I love very much, and who will become irate and panicked if not fed the exact moment they expect to be fed. I mean it – they will wake you up with a swift tiny pawed punch to the face and growl while they lead you directly to the bowl if you are even a minute late. So it’s lucky that, like in Stardew, there are some auto-feeding options available for the modern pet owner.
FeedAndGo is a 6-tray spinning, camera-equipped, talking pet-feeder. You can check in on your pet while they munch by using the pup-snout-level camera, and avoid any left-hooks from angry, hungry old dogs.
The PetNet Smartfeeder does the same type of thing, except it, like my Stardew Valley auto-feeder, has a reservoir for a larger amount of food. However, the Petcube, and CleverPet take it further by allowing you to interact with your pet remotely! CleverPet essentially teaches your pet to play Simon in exchange for treats, lighting up specific pads and rewarding proper pup pad-presses. The PetCube comes in a few iterations, one being a camera that dispenses treats, and another being a laser-pointer and a camera for cat people. Even Stardew doesn’t give me a way to remotely “love” my chickens and cows!
Finally, the kitchen in the upgraded Farm House in Stardew Valley does something amazing – if you have the ingredients for a meal in the fridge, and you know the recipe, you don’t need to take things out of the fridge to make them – you can just allow the stove to “assemble” it. The fridge’s storage is finite, so you can’t just put everything in there – but I believe we’re crawling towards an IRL kitchen that can know its own inventory, and therefore, what you’re capable of making in it. For instance, the SomaBar Kickstarter knows what alcohols you have, and therefore what kind of drinks it can make for you!
Keep SomaBar stocked like your Stardew Valley fridge and you might not be able to make kegs of “pale ale” and “apple wine” but you can hit a button and get a perfect screwdriver.
The Smart Herb Garden is a mix of Stardew activities – both automatically watering a harvestable crop, and keeping your kitchen stocked so that you can make whatever appeals to you. Countercrop is extremely similar, but less portable.
Neo and Eggminder are both great smart-kitchen tools for monitoring inventory. Neo is a “smart jar” that you can keep dry goods in, and Eggminder will tell you not only how many eggs you have left at home, but if they’ve gone bad or not. (Note: In Stardew Valley, eggs don’t go bad.)
EveryCook is the closest thing to the Stardew kitchen available, consisting of a chopper, recipe database, and pressure cooker. All you really have to do is feed the ingredients into the machine, and out pops your meal – just like in the game!
For the amateur automator and the amateur gamer, Stardew and its addicting sense of tranquility (and appeal to those with hoarding sensibilities) is a wonderful retreat from reality, in which home automation is not only affordable, but progressively the norm. I’m looking forward to a future in which home automation IRL will become the norm – and maybe make reality a bit more like a retreat!