Pictures of a cow wearing a pair of comically oversized virtual reality goggles recently spread like wildfire over social media, and even the major news outlets eventually picked it up. Why not? Nobody wants to read about geopolitical turmoil over the holidays, and this story was precisely the sort of lighthearted “news” people would, if you can forgive the pun, gobble up.
But since you’re reading Hackaday, these images probably left you with more questions than answers. Who made the hardware, what software is it running, and of course, why does a cow need VR? Unfortunately, the answers to the more technical questions aren’t exactly forthcoming. Even tracking the story back to the official press release from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region doesn’t tell us much more than we can gather from the image itself.
But it does at least explain why somebody went through the trouble of making a custom bovine VR rig: calm cows produce more milk. These VR goggles, should they pass their testing and actually be adopted by the Russian dairy industry, will be the newest addition to a list of cow-calming hardware devices that farmers have been using for decades to get the most out of their herds.
You might not have realised this, but there’s a group of hackers out there without whom you wouldn’t be able to put food on the table. They hack under the blazing sun and pouring rain, and have been doing it for thousands of years. Known more commonly as farmers, their creative problem solving skills with whatever is lying around can be absolutely jaw dropping. [Andrew Mans] is one such individual. He built a solar powered weeding tractor that uses human labour to do the actual weeding.
We’ll be honest, this made us go “Wait, what?” for a few seconds, until the ingenuity of it all sank in. Crawling at a snails pace across the onion fields at Mans Organics, the contraption allows 3 workers to lie comfortably on their stomachs in a shaded tent, while pulling weeds that grow too close to the crop for conventional mechanised weeding methods. While this might seem like a slightly crappy job at first glance, there are definitely worse jobs a farm (or in an office) and actually looks quite relaxing. While the picking could of course be automated, this is no small task, especially when your business is food production, not robotics.
Power is provided from four 250 W solar panels on the roof, which charge a bank of deep cycle batteries and the drive train. A pure sine wave converter provides power to a 240 V motor driver which turns it back into DC to run the drive motor. [Andrew] admits this back and forth voltage conversion is overcomplicated and inefficient but it’s the sort of thing that quickly happens when you hack a hacked design. The axle and 5-speed gearbox was salvaged from an old 3 ton truck and is mounted vertically to save space. The hydraulic steering is controlled by one of the human weed pickers, who just makes small course corrections as required.
Croatian engineers [Slaven Damjanovic] and [Marko Čalić] have developed a wireless system for farmers to monitor plant conditions and weather along their agricultural fields. The system uses an RFM95W module for LoRa communication, and devices are designed to be plug-and-play, battery-powered, and have long-range communication (up to 10km from the gateway).
It uses an ATMega328 microprocessor, and includes sensors for measuring soil moisture (FC28 sensor), leaf moisture (FC37 sensor), pressure (BME280 sensor), and air temperature and humidity (DHT22 or SHT71 sensor). The data is sent to a multichannel The Things Network gateway that forwards the information to an external database, which then displays the data through a series of graphs and tables.
The software for sending messages to the gateway is based on the LoRa MAC in C (LMIC) and LowPower libraries and was developed by [ph2lb].
While it isn’t quite universal, a lot of people enjoy a glass of wine now and again. But the world faced a crisis in the 1800s that almost destroyed some of the world’s great wines. Science — or some might say hacking — saved the day, even though it isn’t well known outside of serious oenophiles. You might wonder how biological hacking occurred in the 19th century. It did. It wasn’t as fast or efficient, but fortunately for wine drinkers, it got the job done.
When people tell me about new cybersecurity threats, I usually point out that cybercrime isn’t new. People have been stealing money, tricking people into actions, and impersonating other people for centuries. The computer just makes it easier. Even computing itself isn’t a new idea. Counting on your fingers and counting with electrons is just a matter of degree. Surely, though, mashing up biology is a more recent scientific advancement, right? While it is true that CRISPR can make editing genes a weekend garage project, people have been changing the biology of plants and animals for centuries using techniques like selective breeding and grafting. Not as effective, but sometimes effective enough.
Note the different time than our usual Hack Chat slot! Akiba willi be joining us from Japan.
No matter what your feelings are about the current state of the world, you can’t escape the fact that 7.7 billion humans need to be fed every day. That means a lot of crops to grow and harvest and a lot of animals to take care of and bring to market. And like anything else, technology can make that job easier and more productive.
To test concepts at the interface between technology and agriculture, Akiba has developed HackerFarm, a combination of homestead, hackerspace, and small farm in Japan. It’s a place where hackers with agriculture-related projects can come to test ideas and collaborate with other people trying to solve the problems of a hungry world by experimenting on an approachable scale with open-source technology.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
One of the hardest aspects of choosing a career isn’t getting started, it’s keeping up. Whether you’re an engineer, doctor, or even landscaper, there are always new developments to keep up with if you want to stay competitive. This is especially true of farming, where farmers have to keep up with an incredible amount of “best practices” in order to continue being profitable. Keeping up with soil nutrient requirements, changing weather and climate patterns, pests and other diseases, and even equipment maintenance can be a huge hassle.
A new project at Hackerfarm led by [Akiba] is hoping to take at least one of those items off of farmers’ busy schedules, though. Their goal is to help farmers better understand the changing technological landscape and make use of technology without having to wade through all the details of every single microcontroller option that’s available, for example. Hackerfarm is actually a small farm themselves, so they have first-hand knowledge when it comes to tending a plot of land, and [Bunnie Huang] recently did a residency at the farm as well.
The project strives to be a community for helping farmers make the most out of their land, so if you run a small farm or even have a passing interest in gardening, there may be some useful tools available for you. If you have a big enough farm, you might even want to try out an advanced project like an autonomous tractor.
Modern agricultural equipment has come a long way, embracing all kinds of smart features and electronic controls. While some manufacturers would prefer to be the sole gatekeepers of the access to these advanced features, that hasn’t stopped curious and enterprising folks from working on DIY solutions. One such example is this self-steering tractor demo by [Coffeetrac], which demonstrates having a computer plot and guide a tractor through an optimal coverage pattern.
A few different pieces needed to come together to make this all work. At the heart of it all is [Coffeetrac]’s ESP32-based Autosteer controller, which is the hardware that interfaces to the tractor and allows for steering and reading sensors electronically. AgOpenGPS is the software that reads GPS data, interfaces to the Autosteer controller, and tells equipment what to do; it can be thought of as a mission planner.
[Coffeetrac] put it all together with everything controlled by a tablet mounted in the tractor’s cab. The video is embedded below, complete with a “cockpit view” via webcam right alongside the plotted course and sensor data.