Agriculture’s Future On The Backs Of … Legos?

Agriculture’s Future On The Backs Of … Legos?

Robotics is, almost by definition, a field awash in cutting-edge technology, so it seems archaic that students at the University of Illinois have built an autonomous crop harvesting system using LEGOs and off-the-shelf software.

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It’s just a model, and all it’s done is move BBs around a table, but it shows the idea is viable.

The small but significant step forward in the development of autonomous agriculture was enough to impress an international meeting of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers in Minnesota.

The U of I students joined kids from other universities at the conference in trying to figure out how to move crops from field to hopper without human help.

“The challenge was to design an automated harvesting operation that used one harvester and one or more unloading carts,” Tony Grift, the students’ professor, said. “An autonomously guided harvester sends wireless messages to an unloader to indicate that its bin is full. The task of the unloader is then to engage the harvester and return to a location where it dumps its load.”

The students used LEGO Mindstorm building blocks and Robolab software to build the model. The “harvester” held one liter of BBs, which it transferred to unloaders that carted them away. Aside from the students dumping BBs into the harvester, the entire process was autonomous.

It may not get a lot of attention by the general public, but autonomous agriculture is a growing field, if you’ll pardon the pun. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, for example, have developed an automated harvester, and the National Agricultural Research Center in Japan is working on “flockbots” that would clear weeds from fields.