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Environment & Agriculture

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If you were to design the worst possible environment for software engineering, the cramped jump seat of a John Deere tractor would be a contender. The sound and vibration of the engine makes conversation and concentration difficult. If the sun isn’t making it impossible to see the monitor, the blowing dust is.

interview by   -   May 2, 2014


In this episode, Ron Vanderkley speaks with Professor Peter Corke from Queensland University of Technology, about the fast-tracking research that will see robots planting, weeding, maintaining and harvesting crops. The AgBot is a light-weight, golf buggy-sized robot that has been specifically designed to reduce the environmental impact of weeding.

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Keystone Technology’s LED vegetable garden system is a cultivation system for indoor plant factories that uses LED lighting instead of sunlight. The most defining feature of the system on display at the company’s showroom in Yokohama is its 3-dimensional use of space. “This is a 5-tiered cultivation system. For smaller heads of lettuce, you can harvest about 1,500 heads in one month. If this were to be fit into a container of about 20 feet (6m), it would be equivalent to 970 sq. meters. Thus with 16 sq. meters, you could produce an amount that is on par with 970 sq. meters.”

by   -   February 16, 2014

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AeroVironment (of Raven, Puma and Wasp fame) has a high-altitude long-endurance UAV named Global Observer. It flies at 65,000’ for a week or more at a time, has up to a 600-mile diameter footprint and can carry a heavy payload of sensors and cameras.

by   -   February 1, 2014

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In a new $7,800 report by Wintergreen Research, significant growth is anticipated over the remainder of this decade in every aspect of farming, milking, food production and animal control.

by   -   December 23, 2013

Materials used to produce IRO competition events being prepared for removal from convention center

Materials used to produce International Robot Olympiad competition events.

The 2013 (15th annual) International Robot Olympiad competition has come to a close. Next year it will take place in Beijing, China, and is tentatively scheduled for October. Between 400 and 500 young people from 10 countries (including Canada and Mexico, as well as the U.S.) participated in this year’s event, and there would have been approximately 60 more had the bulk of the Indonesian team not been prevented from obtaining visas.

by   -   December 18, 2013

Let me admit up front that I’m not the best person to be covering a robotics competition. In fact this is only the second one I’ve attended; the first, Sparkfun’s AVC, is a tough act to follow and set my expectations pretty high. On the other hand, the theme of this year’s International Robot Olympiad is Robots in Agriculture, which is right in line with my own interests, so maybe it’s a wash in this instance.

interview by   -   November 15, 2013

In this episode, Ron Vanderkley speaks with David Dorhout from Iowa State University about his Agricultural Robots that include Prospero the robot farmer and Aquarius the greenhouse watering robot.

Did you know that the world’s population is set to increase from seven billion people to more than nine billion in the next 40 years? In order to meet this growing demand, agricultural producers will have to increase food production by a staggering 70 to 100 percent. This all needs to happen in a world with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and ever-rising farm input costs.

You probably have a pretty good sense that I am a firm believer that precision agriculture and information is a big part of the answer. This is all about leveraging technology to provide more timely and accurate data in a way to increase efficiency and productivity by cutting time and overall cost. It is about doing more with less. But how are we getting there?

The popular conception of farming as low-tech is woefully out of date. Modern farmers are high-tech operators: They use GIS software to plan their fields, GPS to guide field operations, and auto-steer systems to make tractors follow that GPS guidance without human hands. Given this technology foundation, the transition to full autonomy is already in progress, leveraging commodity parts and advanced software to get there more quickly than is possible in many other domains.

This article outlines some of the key technologies that enable autonomous farming, using the Kinze Autonomous Grain Harvesting System as a case study.

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University of Colorado’s robotic plant growth is demonstrated at the Kennedy Space Center. Source: NASA.

Targeting a sustainable presence of humans in outer space will require solving air, water, energy, and food supplies within a few thousand cubic feet surrounded by vacuum. What seems at first sight to be a problem of an apocalyptic, remote future reveals itself as the grand challenges of our civilization in a nutshell. This article argues that space exploration can be one of the main drivers to revolutionize sustainable agriculture on earth.

interview by   -   November 3, 2013

In this episode Sabine Hauert speaks with Jorge Heraud, CEO of California-based startup Blue River Technology which brings together computer vision and robotics to automate agriculture. Their first robot LettuceBot targets the state’s #1 vegetable crop. Its task is to thin rows of lettuce in fields. This involves selectively removing some of the plants by spraying excess fertilizer on them, thereby avoiding overcrowding while fertilizing nearby plants. The tractor-mounted robot is already being rented out to farms across the state.

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Photo credit: Patrick Egan.

There are bushels of folks out there now spending money and putting time in finding niches for unmanned systems that already exist. You may be saying, isn’t that what we should be doing? Possibly, but first we have to understand that the idea of carrying sensors on aircraft is not revolutionary, it has been going on for years. Drones too, but we are supposed to act like it doesn’t happen because FAA policy says so.

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Yamaha is testing spraying vineyards in Napa Valley through a COA with the FAA. Photo courtesy Yamaha Corp.

With the global market for unmanned systems in agriculture on the rise, companies that make robotic ground and air systems are paying close attention.

More than 25,000 “field” or agriculture robots will be sold by 2015 — about the same as robots for military use, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Together, defense and agriculture make up the lion’s share of the nearly 94,000 “service robots for professional use” that the IFR believes will be sold in the next couple of years. Defense and agriculture are by far the two largest categories in IFR calculations, with robots for things like logistics, medicine and rescue coming in well behind.

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Haptics and Virtual Interactions
February 17, 2020


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