Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
Gardens Point Science and Engineering Centre
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Aug. 18, 2013
Check out the AgBot
Robotronica is billed as an international celebration of robotics hosted by the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. The show is being run for a single day in conjunction with Queensland’s Ekka, the Australian state’s annual show (formally titled the Royal Queensland Show).
Farmers are encouraged to come to Queensland University of Technology’s Gardens Point campus to check out AgBot, a robot the organizers say “is destined revolutionize farming in the future.”
Prof. Gordon Wyeth, head of robotics at the University, said farmers would be able to talk with the scientists who have developed the AgBot and get an understanding of how the robot works.
“Our prototype agricultural robot — AgBot — is a transformational technology for agriculture that moves away from ever-larger and more expensive machines to lightweight, low-cost machines that are better for productivity and the environment,” he said.
“Agbot will be demonstrating its ability to safely navigate along crop rows while intelligently spraying weeds and avoiding damage to the crop,” Wyeth said.
It’s very likely that in the next decade, robots will be planting, weeding, maintaining and harvesting crops all over Australia, he said.
“Robots will help Australian farmers to become more globally competitive, and research under way at QUT and at Swarm Farm near Emerald will pave the way for this agricultural transformation,” according to Wyeth.
“Our lightweight, golf buggy-sized AgBot prototype is already performing well in relation to navigating and weeding,” he said.
It is thought the technology will improve farm productivity, saving wheat producers as much as $620 million a year on weeding.
Australia’s e-MONITOR engineering website filed this recent report on the the AgBot:
The AgBot is a lightweight, driverless buggy that can navigate around a 5,000-acre wheat farm using low-cost sensors, eradicating small weeds and causing minimal damage to soil.
It does have two seats, but one of the researchers working on the project, David Ball, explained that the seating allowed researchers to debug the AgBot while it’s moving (or simply to take a ride on it).
It’s a John Deere TE Gator that has been fitted with extra motors and electronics to control the steering, brake, and throttle to allow autonomous operation. The additions are all on a CAN (controller area network) developed by Bosch in 1985 for in-vehicle networks, which is then connected to a standard PC running Ubuntu and the Robot Operating System. We have added an INS system (GPS + IMU), cameras, and a laser sensor with all sit on an Ethernet network.
Lastly, we have a router for communication across Wi-Fi or 3G. On the back of the Gator is a spray tank and boom system.
The project, headed up by the QUT Robotics lab, in collaboration with Swarm Farm in Emerald [Queensland] and the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, aims to improve broad-acre farming by creating a new class of small, intelligent, cooperative, autonomous robots to increase farming production.
“The farmer we are working with currently uses a single large heavy chemical weed sprayer that is unable to traverse the fields immediately after rain when the weeds are small,” said the chief investigator.
“Eradicating weeds when they are small requires far less chemicals, leading to significant savings both financially and environmentally.” said Wyeth. “Our research will combine cheap cameras and other sensors with new navigation and perception algorithms, which we believe will save the wheat industry $620 million in weeding alone.”
Building the AgBot
“You can’t just buy an autonomous vehicle at the size we needed off the shelf for a reasonable price yet,” he said. “So we spent a lot of time selecting and installing components.”
“We probably spent the most time on the safety systems, as we have multiple levels of redundancies so that we can have the AgBot in autonomous mode within QUT,” he added.
“We had an expert company from the U.S. called RoPro come out and do some of the installation to save us time,” he said.
Video: AgBot navigating a field of chickpeas for accurate spraying using autonomous obstacle avoidance. The video was taken on a farm outside Emerald in Queensland.