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agBOT Challenge Tests Robotic Planters

Update: A contest to merge technology and agriculture is set to take place on Saturday, May 7, 2016, at Gerrish Farms in Rockville, Indiana. Eight teams (down from the original 11 selected), who have been challenged to create a robotic planter, are set to compete for three top prizes totaling $100,000.

The dream of automated systems doing the big chores on the farm are closer to reality than ever, but are they ready for prime time? This competition will offer a look at just how far the industry has come, and perhaps how much farther it has to go,” says Steve Gerrish. “Teams of students and tech experts have accepted the challenge of building and operating a robotic planter system capable of planting seed with no humans near by.”

The eight teams include Pee Dee Precision Ag, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, Ohio State University, Purdue University, Virginia Tech University, Muchowski Farms, Michigan State University, University of Regina.

Successful Farming will be there to capture all of the action. Look for updates at Agriculture.com.

The story below was originally published in November of 2015.

What could unlimited bandwidth do for agriculture? It’s a question that Indiana farmer and entrepreneur Steve Gerrish hopes to answer.

“We’re installing a very high bandwidth system on our farm to understand how broadband technology can impact a farming operation,” he explains.

For the past six years, Gerrish has been working with a group of investors who develop and commercialize new technologies. While the group’s main focus has been geared toward the military, the oil and gas industry, and the marine industry, it is now turning its attention to agriculture. 

“The Broadband Antenna Tracking System (BATS) is a mobile broadband product that is an assimilation of a number of technologies our team has commercialized in other industries,” he says. “BATS allows all high bandwidth, high-speed links on a private network. It’s completely local to you. We’re now applying that innovation to agricultural problems.”

Rather than relying on satellite or cell signals, the system uses wi-fi or microwave signals. “This is an infrastructure alternative that provides a lot of opportunity,” Gerrish notes. “By having a system like this in place, we can improve the observation, intervention, analysis, and data storage in a number of farming practices. Mobile broadband, with a very large bandwidth and speed, is a critical element in making that happen.”

The Race is On

In order to test this technology, his team is challenging the robotics industry to develop the algorithms necessary to run autonomous vehicles. “We do not have the broadband capabilities to observe and intervene with the machine,” Gerrish says. 

“We can’t do it with 3G, 4G, and signals that are small. It’s like trying to do things with dial-up. It’s more complex than what we can do with the streaming data on our cell phones. A lot of the data can be transmitted, but we must have assured intervention capabilities with the vehicles. We have to be able to shut them off. We’ve been doing that with BATS,” he says.

The ag tech event, agBOT 2016, set for May 7, 2016, and the following two years, will challenge 11 teams to fully design and implement the hardware, software, sensors, and human-machine control interfaces that will drive their robots.

First ($50,000), second ($30,000), and third ($20,000) place prizes will be awarded to the teams judged to have the most successful designs.

“Each team will be challenged with planting and fertilizing 12 rows, each ½ mile long, in an assigned set of GPS coordinates,” explains Gerrish. “Drones will monitor team performance.”

This will allow teams the opportunity to demonstrate their intellectual properties,  and it will open the door to the possibility of taking their work to market. 

“We can look across those innovations and take the best in practice, pool it, and get it to the farmer – hopefully, within a year of demonstration on the farm,” Gerrish says. 

Teams Chosen

With over 600 ag schools and more than 80 robotics groups, Steven Gerrish has had a tremendous response to agBOT 2016.

“The challenge is to give creative young minds an outlet for their skills in an area that could have a huge impact on feeding the world,” says the Rockville, Indiana, farmer and entrepreneur. “There is a strong probability it will benefit small farmers as well as large commodity production operators.”

Entries were narrowed to these 11 teams:

  • Ohio State University
  • Muchowski Farms
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • University of Regina
  • Virginia Tech University
  • Purdue University
  • Michigan State University
  • IUPUI
  • Pee Dee Precision Ag
  • Grit Robotics
  • MESATech

“Each team has submitted an incredible proposal,” he notes.

Learn more at agbot.ag.

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