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Tony Grift Tony Grift
Assistant Professor of Biosystems Automation
Department of Agricultural Engineering
(217) 333-2854
Yoshisada Nagasaka Yoshisada Nagasaka
Visiting Scholar
Department of Agricultural Engineering
(217) 333-9420; nagasaka@illinois.edu
Matthias Kasten Matthias Kasten
Department of Agricultural Engineering
(217) 244-4179

Robotics in Agriculture: Asimov Meets Corn.

Automation has progressed into homes (60’s) offices (70’s) and manufacturing (80’s). The logical progression is to apply automation in agriculture, where crop-scouting robots collect data directly in the field about the status of the crop (nitrogen deficiency, water stress, diseases, weeds and insect infestations). The robot as shown in Figure 1 named ‘AgTracker’ was developed to autonomously negotiate cornrows. Its design is very simple; it uses eight infrared distance sensors and two ultrasonic distance sensors to navigate through the rows using the ‘drunken sailor’ approach. The robot measures distances from the robot to the plant stalks and tries to equalize the left and right distances and steer through the center of the row without ever contacting a plant. This is similar to the way humans steers automobiles on roads, where the boundaries of the roads are observed and small steering inputs keep us from running off the road. On the other hand, imagine the road boundaries moving, as corn plants do in windy conditions…

Ag Tracker

At the end of the row, the robot detects the absence of corn stalks and then slows down and stops after 5 seconds. Then it makes a 90-degree turn using an electronic compass. Subsequently, it travels until another infrared sensor mounted at the rear of the robot detects the passage of a corn stalk. The robot then turns through 90 degrees again and should be well aligned to enter the next row at a distance of 75 cm (30 inches). The simplicity of the robot design reduces its price tag to under $500. There is no full size computer, a simple $8 microcontroller steers the robot. In the future, sensors can be mounted to detect weeds and maybe even eradicate them automatically. We might even be able to have robots perform field operations as well. Because of their small size and weight, they will not cause any compaction, which reduces the need for tillage. Harvesting might still be done with (autonomous) large machinery.

Ag Ant

Another approach would be to have robots work together. Figure 2 sh ows a small ant-like robot that can communicate with other AgAnts. When one AgAnt detects weeds, it can call in the ‘cavalry’ to take care of the weeds as a group. The AgAnt robots now form an ecosystem within the crop and what is more agricultural than that?

 
Department of Crop Sciences
College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
University of Illinois Extension
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