UBC team designs autonomous AgroBot and AgroPonics
October 27, 2020 By Farm Credit Canada
A University of British Columbia student design team is developing a fully autonomous agricultural robot, driven by their belief that Canada can lead the world in sustainable farming.
The UBC AgroBot aims to precisely exterminate weeds and fertilize crops as well as record data from a farmer’s operation. The team has grown from four to 40 plus students with backgrounds in various engineering disciplines and many with no prior exposure to agriculture.
The AgroBot project involves four teams of students. The chassis team designs the mechanical body, structure and driving system. The extermination team works on the mechanics and chemical design to target weeds. The navigation team develops the autonomous software to navigate crop rows and the image recognition team uses machine learning technology to allow the robot to identify crops and weeds.
“To sustainably produce enough food for the world, there is an urgent need for innovation in the field of agriculture,” says Wendie Wu, AgroBot team member. “Engineering students are drawn by the technologies we see working in other industries and they’re eager to apply them in agriculture and help operations be as sustainable as possible.”
The UBC team was the only Canadian university design team planning to attend the AgGrowBot Challenge hosted by Indiana’s Purdue University last May, however the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the AgroBot team from attending. Still, their success has been noticed at UBC where they were granted official engineering design team status and have received financial support from various organizations, including Farm Credit Canada (FCC).
“Agriculture continues to be one of the most innovative and agile industries in Canada, says FCC marketing vice-president Fred Wall. “In order to feed a growing world population, we need to focus on sustainability and technology. FCC applauds the UBC AgroBot students for seeing the opportunity to apply their skills in agriculture and make a real difference for the food sector.”
The interest and success of the AgroBot project has UBC supporting an aquaponics project as well, dubbed AgroPonics. It involves applying similar machine learning, image recognition and automation technologies to building an autonomous indoor garden system that is functional without soil.
Team member Seline Choe is motivated about what agritech can do for agriculture and food in Canada. “The agritech industry is growing fast. I see the opportunity to use more image recognition and data collection for the benefit of everyone. There are a lot of companies in the research phase and we can be a part of the talent pipeline that will evolve those technologies,” Choe adds. “I can see hydroponics becoming bigger, from commercial use to homes, it can be a more efficient way to grow food by optimizing growing conditions. We need to come up with new ways to support the world’s population with the food it needs.
The UBC students are continuing to work on both the AgroBot and AgroPonics projects. They hope to implement their products on local farms and on the university campus in the near future.
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