Eliott Sarrey and Bot2Karot robot

Eliott Sarrey: "Bot2Karot is the link between the virtual and the real, between gardening games and my vegetable garden"

He is only 14, but Eliott Sarrey is already playing with the big boys. On 21 September, the youngster from Lorraine won the Incubator Award for 13-15-year-olds in recognition of an outstanding scientific project at the Google Science Fair in Mountain View, California. His winning project? Bot2Karot – a robot that can do your gardening for you and was designed and built entirely in the family workshop. Here we profile a young inventor keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
 
The Incubator Award recognises a pupil of 13-15 years of age submitting an outstanding scientific project. The winner receives a scholarship of 10,000 dollars and a year's mentorship to help develop their project.
When we rang Eliott Sarrey we were not expecting to hear such a confident voice on the other end of the line. But then it was not his first interview – Eliott's profile got a huge boost on 21 September when he won Google's Incubator Award for his Bo2Karot robot, and he has been in great demand ever since.
 
The robot, which he designed and prototyped himself in the family workshop, is the first connected gardening robot. It is based on the concept of a robot that can "hoe, water, transplant and make holes" and be controlled from a smartphone. "I thought it would be good if what you could do virtually, in games, you could actually do in real life, in the vegetable garden", he explains. "But at first it was mainly to have someone to water and hoe the vegetable garden, which we don't really do in our house!"
 

From concept to reality

 
Bot2Karot robotWhile he completed the project with a view to presenting it at the Google Science Fair, Eliott actually got the idea long before. "I've always played with Lego and I really enjoyed ignoring the instructions, putting toys together, dismantling them, putting them back together my own way..." He took this to the next level when his parents bought a milling machine two years ago. "Now I can do what I used to do with Lego with wooden parts instead".
 
Elliot is part of an IT club he founded with two friends and a robotics club that was set up more recently. His friends are less 'handy' than he is, as they "don't have a workshop at home", but "all three of us are into IT, robotics and a bit of programming. We have Lego Mindstorms, so we know a bit about programming robots", he explains, disconcertingly naturally.
 
It took three months to take Bot2Karot from the design to the prototyping stages, including two months just for modelling. To meet the deadline, he needed to start machining as soon as possible. The robot is 100% homemade, in his father's workshop. "It's made of fibreless wood, which machines very well. The mechanical parts, meanwhile, are metal – ball bearings, motors, etc.", he explains.
 

The Google Science Fair

 
Eliott SarreyOn 19 September 2015, Eliott Sarrey flew to the United States, accompanied by his father. The long-awaited moment to present his project to Google had come. He had even created a small model of a complete vegetable garden for the occasion. First, the sixteen panellists went from stand to stand looking at the projects. The following day, it was Eliott's turn to present to the panel. The verdict was announced on 21 September, with Eliott becoming the first French national to win a prize – the Incubator Award – at this global competition. He also won a scholarship of 10,000 dollars and a year's mentorship to help develop his project.
 
Eliott Sarrey at schoolHe got a hero's welcome when he returned to school in Neuves-Maisons (in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department). "It was nice, my classmates all greeted me at the school gates. Even the TV people were there!", he laughs. Going back to school also means going back to reality, something that Eliott has never lost sight of; when asked if the prize makes him want to take on other projects, he reminds us that he has to sit his brevet (lower secondary school leaving certificate) at the end of the year and doesn't have time to do it all. "Plus, I'd like to finish Bot2Karot! The robot is just a prototype, and while we can already get it to hoe and water, the smartphone app for actually programming it to water this or that lettuce is still in development".
 
Now Eliott wants to make it a truly connected device. "I've already written some little apps, so that's not a problem. I will have to use a server, though, so that the robot can send the information to a database, and that's not really my field". But he admits that the prize has brought a new dimension to his project. "Before, it was just a little project I made in my workshop and I didn't really know what would become of it. Now that people seem to like the robot, I'm wondering what to do with it. I would never have thought about that before".
 

What's next?

 
Eliott Sarrey's main goal is to finish Bot2Karot. His Year 10 work experience placement with French company Parrot, which specialises in the field and develops and markets drones in particular, should allow him to further his knowledge of connected devices. "These contacts will be useful in the future if I want to take it further".
 
While he plans to study engineering, he says that he does not yet know in which field. "Bot2Karot has allowed me to try my hand at various trades: machining, development, design, programming... Engineering gets very specific very quickly and I don't know what I want to do yet".

Interview: Emilie Louis