A Scottish start-up is hoping to help tackle childhood obesity with its innovative Tamogotchi-style app.
Table Farm is a smart toy, aimed at pre-teens, which harnesses Internet of Things technology (IoT) to teach children where food comes from and how it is cultivated.
Designed by the Urban Farming Company, creators say the product will give youngsters a better understanding about how food is grown - which studies show can be a vital step towards a healthy lifestyle in later life.
Along with the app, children are provided with a seed, container, soil, cartridge pack and built-in light and water systems.
They then use online tools, blending digital with nature, to create a plant incubator that will guide them through the journey of a plant’s life, all the way from seed to consumption.
Along the way, the junior gardeners will learn how plants grow and react to different stimuli, through a series of challenges; with its condition displayed by an avatar within the app.
Table Farm designer, Jason Morenikeji, 47, a self-confessed “old fashioned product guy” said: “ Study after study shows that parents are anxious about the increasing dislocation between children and their natural environment – kids are gradually losing their knowledge of where food comes from and how it grows.
“Essentially Table Farm is an educational toy, with a built-in sustainability narrative, that teaches kids where vegetables and plants come from, how they grow, and what they need to reach their full potential.
“Children are encouraged to interact with the plant through daily challenges and updates.
“Our hope is that the product will help kids get a better understanding of food, and address health issues such as poor eating habits and obesity, with the ultimate idea being to drive behavioural change.”
Morenikeji added: “I grew up wanting to be an inventor, making products that can help people lead better lives.”
Before laying down roots in Scotland, Morenikeji - who hails from London - worked in Mozambique where he used his design skills to assist local farmers.
Now based at the Edinburgh Centre of Carbon Innovation with social enterprise Urban Farming Company’s two other employees, the budding inventor has received initial funding support from Scotland’s Design in Action fund.
Among the many by-products of its research, Table Farm can be used to understand how plants react to different kinds of light and eventually inspire new methods for intensive farming – for example, helping low-income farmers in developing countries improve food security.
The start-up is actively seeking over £140,000 in funding from external investors and is considering launching a crowdfunding campaign also.
A full launch of Table Farm is pencilled in for mid- 2017, with the company looking to scale up to a five-person operation.
The company is also working with CENSIS, the Scottish Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems, to take its technology to the next stage. The Urban Farming Company is one of the first businesses to use CENSIS’s Connected Device Development Centre (CDDC), which aims to help SMEs fast-track the development of new IoT-related products.