Robohub's focus series on agricultural robotics either is nearing or has arrived at completion, however the work of applying robotics to agriculture has barely begun. My own contribution to that series turns on the idea that robotics is a fundamental, revolutionary development, with the potential to transform everything it touches, and, by implication, that roboticists should embrace that potential and approach their work as an opportunity to change the world for the better, both generally and in the context of agriculture.
“The RC plane shown above is hovering in that position. And that’s about the least impressive thing it can do. … So what exactly is Collective Pitch Thrust Vectoring anyway? Put simply, it’s like strapping a helicopter rotor to the front of a plane.”
John Payne's insight:
This amazing performance is done using radio control. Imagine what an on-board controller could do!
Recently listening to an interview with Séan Rickard, the author of this paper, my first reaction was that this man is the devil; he wants to force small ("inefficient") farmers out of business. But let him speak for himself, and you can judge for yourself.
“NSK is one of those companies that makes products that you use every day, but that are are buried somewhere within another company’s product, and you’ll never know the century-old Japanese giant was responsible for the design and manufacture of those internal parts.”
“The popular conception of farming as low-tech is woefully out of date.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.”
“We tend to think of livestock farmers as "one man and his dog," but if AgResearch of New Zealand has anything to say, that pair may have to move over to include a robot. A team led by Dr. Andrew Manderson is developing AgriRover, an agricultural robot inspired by NASA’s Mars rovers. It’s a proof-of-concept prototype designed to show how robots can make life easier and more productive for livestock farmers.”
“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.”
“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.”
“James Dyson will announce the winner of the international student design award that carries his name in a little over a week, so it's an opportune time to take a closer look at the finalists. This year, Dyson has 20 finalists from which to make his selection, and like previous years, it looks like being no easy task. Here are the entries…”
John Payne's insight:
The COMB is a design for an autonomous tracked vehicle supporting interchangeable open-box beds, designed for professional use in construction. That design is among the finalists in this year’s James Dyson Award. This year’s winners will be announced November 7th.
“Generally, flying robots are programmed to avoid obstacles, which is far from easy in cluttered environments. At the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, we think that flying robots should be able to physically interact with their surroundings. Take insects: they often collide with obstacles and continue flying afterwards. We thus designedGimBall, a flying robot that can collide with objects seamlessly. Thanks to a passively rotating spherical cage, it remains stable even after taking hits from all sides. This approach enables GimBall to fly in the most difficult places without complex sensors.”
“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.”
“Colorado-based Modular Robotics has taken its Cubelets robotic building blocks to the next level with MOSS, a modular robot construction system that requires no coding or wiring skills on the part of the user. The kits are made up of various modules that communicate with each other via a single button contact and can be snapped together using magnets.”
The US government now faces the same dilemma over drones as it did over nuclear weapons in the late 1940s. It’s at a fork in the road. Intoxicated with short-term advantage. Blind to long-term dangers.
A small team at NASA's Ames Research Center has set out to "boldly grow where no man has grown before" – and they’re doing it with the help of thousands of children, a robot, and a few specially customized GoPro cameras.
"As robot prices started to come down we realized we could use them much more cost effectively than any other solution for accuracy and high quality," says Richard Thorpe, TAFA brand equipment manager. "Today you'll also find surface coatings in petrochemical, industrial gas turbine and other general industry applications."
“One difficulty with wide adoption of UAVs, in general, is that companies develop and sell them with the mentality, ‘Here is a great solution… Lets go find a problem it can solve.’ As UAV companies are quickly discovering, the key to making a successful platform is to make it as hands-off, easy to use and as industry specific as possible. In agriculture, farmers are not interested in learning how to be, or dedicating somebody to be, a UAV operator. They need a tool that is a part of their everyday workflow.”
“This video showcases Engineered Machined Products (EMP), an Escanaba, Michigan-based manufacturer that is competing globally with the help of high-tech robotic automation. … With industrial robots and automation, EMP is able to compete globally, expand its business, and remain a very strong and viable manufacturer based in Michigan.”
“When Occipital launched its Kickstarter campaign for a portable 3D sensor for mobile devices, it saw the project fully funded within a few hours. Knowing we had to see this gadget in action, Gizmag met with co-founder Vikas Reddy after Structure Sensor had become the 50th Kickstarter project to reach the million-dollar mark.”
“By mounting such a wafer in such a way that air passing out through the groves around the outer edge is forced to turn and flow in an inward spiral across the face of the glass, an air-flow, reminiscent of that in a hurricane, will be set up, with filtered air spiraling inward next to the lens cover, pushing out a bit, and then spiraling back outward a short distance in front of the lens cover, keeping the lens cover itself free of dust and small droplets in the ambient air.
John Payne's insight:
If I may be forgiven for scooping myself, this is one of the better ideas I've ever had, and here I've laid it out in a recipe any engineering student could follow.
(Free registration required.) “What was once the stuff of science fiction is now only years away from reality. And the increasing capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles are undeniably awe-inspiring. The historic achievements of recent months clearly indicate that unmanned fighter aircraft will play a major role in the future of air combat.”
John Payne's insight:
Like it or not, most of the work being done on the development of autonomous systems is being paid for by the military. One advantage of this is they are furiously disciplined about acknowledging the limitations of the systems they develop, and it strikes me as hopeful that this discipline should act to keep a human being in the loop, even in the heat of aerial combat.
“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.”