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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday April 19, @11:48PM   Printer-friendly
from the where-is-the-jane-robot? dept.

When you've got a crop full of plants growing in a field, inspecting each and every one of them can be very monotonous work. That's why scientists are working on plant-inspecting robots, that perform the task autonomously. Most of those 'bots are wheeled, however, meaning that they could get stuck or fall over – plus they might get in the way of other machinery. With that in mind, scientists from Georgia Tech have created a prototype robot that swings over the plants like a monkey. It's called Tarzan.

The idea is that in fields where a Tarzan robot is being used, each row of plants will have a tightly-strung guy wire running overhead. Using its two "arms," the robot will swing itself along that wire, imaging the plants below with its built-in cameras as it does so. When it gets to the end of one row, it will just swing over to the wire running above the next row over, and start making its way back down it. That process will be repeated, until it covers the whole field.

It does sound like a better option than a wheeled robot--muck in the fields can get pretty deep.


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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by bob_super on Thursday April 20, @12:11AM (7 children)

    by bob_super (1357) on Thursday April 20, @12:11AM (#496609)

    What exactly is the problem with a much simpler, more reliable, and faster wheeled robot rolling along the same guy wire?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @01:07AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @01:07AM (#496629)

      Robots on rails [poisonedminds.com]
      have a [poisonedminds.com]
      nasty [poisonedminds.com]
      habit [poisonedminds.com]
      of murdering. [poisonedminds.com]

    • (Score: 1) by butthurt on Thursday April 20, @01:23AM (5 children)

      by butthurt (6141) on Thursday April 20, @01:23AM (#496639) Journal
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @01:36AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @01:36AM (#496649)

        Walke-talkies had Morse code printed on them? Old cheating bastards.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @01:46AM (3 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @01:46AM (#496653)

        You've got the Golden Touch!

        15/15

        Damn I'm old.

        • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday April 20, @02:11AM (2 children)

          by bob_super (1357) on Thursday April 20, @02:11AM (#496660)

          Same, despite quite a few of these being obsolete before I was born.

          • (Score: 1) by Scruffy Beard 2 on Thursday April 20, @05:06AM (1 child)

            by Scruffy Beard 2 (6030) on Thursday April 20, @05:06AM (#496701)

            I was confused why 2/3rd of the tech lacked pictures... Did not realize it was a test.

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @06:00AM

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @06:00AM (#496714)

              The washing machine looks like a water heater if you don't notice the wringer.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by leftover on Thursday April 20, @12:16AM (8 children)

    by leftover (2448) on Thursday April 20, @12:16AM (#496611)

    One does not just say "String a taught wire above each row of crops"
    without revealing ignorance of agriculture's scale. Think of a square field with sides
    one mile long. Then think of "stringing a taught wire" one mile long every two feet
    for the entire field. That would be only 640 acres, less that a now-typical Midwestern
    family farm. Now with all these wires strung, how do you plant, fertilize, and harvest the crops?

    Testing in soybeans, you say? Even more ignorance. Not long after sprouting,
    a soybean field looks like a dark green carpet. Before that are occasional weeds
    between the rows, typically spotted hundreds of yards apart and in different rows.

    The only "row crop" where this infrastructure investment is worth considering
    are trees. Georgia has those: peaches, pecans. It might be beneficial to inspect
    the trees from above but flying cameras could do that too without any fixed investment.

    --
    Bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated.
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by bob_super on Thursday April 20, @12:27AM (3 children)

      by bob_super (1357) on Thursday April 20, @12:27AM (#496616)

      The other option is to use the "spider" system used in stadiums. You only have 4 towers/cranes at the corners of the field and 4 long wires attached to a camera which can then go to any spot. The system's reach is only limited by cable tension/droop.
      The Spider can be sent easily out of the way when needed.

      For a slow inspection, that's the best ROI. For a fast inspection, fly a drone around and post-process the pictures when the battery dies.

      This, on the other hand, is a highly impractical teaching experiment.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by frojack on Thursday April 20, @01:08AM (2 children)

        by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 20, @01:08AM (#496630) Journal

        For a slow inspection, that's the best ROI.

        No its not.
        The cost of this is going to be very high, the maintenance even higher, and it only covers one field that you need to image maybe twice a year.

        The drone is like 2500 bucks for a programmable drone with a long life battery that you can send over the field in a grid pattern, bring it back, swap out the battery pack, Switch memory modules and then do the next field. One guy could perform this as a service for far less money out of pocket than the the silly wires.

        You don't need detailed analysis of every plant. Crops aren't managed that way. They are managed in bulk.

        --
        No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
        • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday April 20, @01:20AM

          by bob_super (1357) on Thursday April 20, @01:20AM (#496638)

          I was going along with their apparent assumption that some inspection needs to be close, slow, and detailed enough, to justify the horrible technical decision they based their project on.

        • (Score: 2) by butthurt on Thursday April 20, @04:20AM

          by butthurt (6141) on Thursday April 20, @04:20AM (#496685) Journal

          > You don't need detailed analysis of every plant. Crops aren't managed that way. They are managed in bulk.

          Broadcast spraying of herbicide, together with GM crops that can resist the herbicide, has served us for millennia. But some people don't want to ingest herbicide, and weeds are becoming resistant. This particular robot doesn't do weeding, but there has been research into robots that will:

          https://duckduckgo.com/html/?q=robot%20%22computer%20vision%22%20weeds [duckduckgo.com]
          https://duckduckgo.com/html/?q=%22machine%20vision%22%20weed [duckduckgo.com]

          A possible use for this particular design is suggested by the article:

          [...] without having to spend hours stooped over in the fields, the farmer could find out if any of the plants were showing signs of dehydration, disease or other problems.

          Insects, viruses or fungus can be addressed once they have spread to large numbers of plants, but looking at the individual plants would seem to offer the possibility of controlling such outbreaks earlier, before they've done much damage: early detection. If the agriculturalist uses pesticides, less pesticide could be used.

          The part about dehydration does sound questionable to me. I would imagine that there could be benefits from irrigating plants individually rather than irrigating an entire field in one go, but it seems unlikely to be worthwhile.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by frojack on Thursday April 20, @01:00AM (1 child)

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 20, @01:00AM (#496626) Journal

      ignorance of agriculture's scale

      Not to mention the over expectations of the benefit of plant images.
      Nobody has time to look at those pictures of individual plants.
      Any computer analysis you can do on the photos is going to be too costly, and stringing the wired will never pay for itself.

      So just send up the drone and image the field and call it a day.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
      • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Thursday April 20, @11:58AM

        by Phoenix666 (552) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 20, @11:58AM (#496806) Journal

        I agree with you there. They have already used thermal imaging and similar means to look at how a crop is doing mid-season.

        So using a robot like this to image crops doesn't make much sense. But it's cool they got it to brachiate.

        Farmers do use a lot more tech than most people suppose. Many of the old decrepit farmhouses you see from the Interstate are chock full of computers and sophisticated equipment. And nowadays the cabs of farm machinery look like the space shuttle.

        --
        Washington DC delenda est.
    • (Score: 2) by butthurt on Thursday April 20, @01:30AM

      by butthurt (6141) on Thursday April 20, @01:30AM (#496645) Journal

      > [a wire] every two feet

      Move the ends of the wire, or just move one end, like a centre pivot irrigator.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_pivot_irrigation [wikipedia.org]

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @11:45AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @11:45AM (#496802)

      One does not just say "String a taught wire above each row of crops"

      Well no, unless one is teaching the wire something. One says "String a taut wire above each row of crops".

  • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @12:50AM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @12:50AM (#496623)

    I'm sure this makes good sense in a greenhouse, or in their "four-acre soybean test field", or other university type settings.

    In the real world, we don't want wheeled robots because "they might get in the way of other machinery", so we'll... string wires (not guy wires, BTW) over the field, with poles at regular intervals to hold them up!? (Yes, real fields are often far too big to cover in a single span.) At least you can program a wheeled robot to get out of the way when idle; you're gonna have to work around those poles whether "Tarzan" is busy or not.

    The comments about "muck", or how wheeled robots could "fall over" make no sense -- I don't know whether they're concerned about soil compaction, or getting stuck, but either way. There's no good reason for the wheeled equivalent of this thing to weigh more than a few pounds, no matter how fancy the camera. Put it on three wide bike tires, and the ground pressure is going to be at least as low as vehicles with tracks or flotation tires. Keep the wheels well spaced (straddle two or more rows, if that's needed) and it won't fall over.

    • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Thursday April 20, @11:52AM (1 child)

      by Phoenix666 (552) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 20, @11:52AM (#496804) Journal

      The comments about "muck", or how wheeled robots could "fall over" make no sense -- I don't know whether they're concerned about soil compaction, or getting stuck, but either way. There's no good reason for the wheeled equivalent of this thing to weigh more than a few pounds, no matter how fancy the camera. Put it on three wide bike tires, and the ground pressure is going to be at least as low as vehicles with tracks or flotation tires. Keep the wheels well spaced (straddle two or more rows, if that's needed) and it won't fall over.

      Have you never walked in fields of dew-covered wheat or tall corn and sunk in up to your hip?

      --
      Washington DC delenda est.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @06:07PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @06:07PM (#496973)

        Nope, I'm afraid I live in the wrong part of the country for rice, wheat, and corn paddies.

  • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Thursday April 20, @06:23AM (2 children)

    by kaszz (4211) on Thursday April 20, @06:23AM (#496719) Journal

    Jonathan Rogers, Assistant professor, Mechanical engineering: "We have a lot more people to feed, and we will have a lot more people to feed, than we ever had in history. The only way we can really achieve the food production we really going to need in the future. Is to employ a automation and robots."

    I have another suggestion. Make-Less-Kids!

    Direct link to the demonstration video [youtube.com] of the robot. (for those td;lr fans)

    As commented on earlier by others. The robot could be wheeled otherwise the mechanical tear will be excessive. And anyway it seems more worthwhile using a flying drone. As a bonus it can be programmed to take permanent care of any Monsanto sampling & poisoning [savethepinebush.org] helicopters.

    for farmers that do not buy seed from Monsanto, Monsanto will fly a helicopter over a farmer’s field and drop some Roundup herbicide. Then, a couple of weeks later, Monsanto will return. If the canola plants are still alive, that means they contain the patented gene. Monsanto will send farmers a letter asking for payment of the “Technology Fees”; Percy called these “extortion” letters.

    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Friday April 21, @11:00PM (1 child)

      by bob_super (1357) on Friday April 21, @11:00PM (#497644)

      > Monsanto will fly a helicopter over a farmer’s field and drop some Roundup herbicide

      Now, why don't you repeat to the nice Federal investigator how you did an aerial drop of toxic chemicals on someone's private property, contaminating their food source?
      We've Tomahawked brown people for barely more than that...

      • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday April 21, @11:44PM

        by kaszz (4211) on Friday April 21, @11:44PM (#497668) Journal

        But brown people don't pay bribes. You didn't get the memo? ;)

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @07:11AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, @07:11AM (#496728)

    Hang around

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SETBvwYrIeU [youtube.com]

    It's good to know black flag was good for something

  • (Score: 2) by Taibhsear on Thursday April 20, @03:29PM

    by Taibhsear (1464) on Thursday April 20, @03:29PM (#496888)

    Why not just use aerial automated drones to scan the fields? Or a series of them if the battery life isn't enough for one. No muck. No wires. Nothing in the way of your other equipment. Just have to worry about raptors. Clever girls...

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