The Weedinator Returns

We are delighted to see The Weedinator as an entry for the 2018 Hackaday Prize! Innovations in agriculture are great opportunities to build something to improve our world. [TegwynTwmffat]’s Weedinator is an autonomous, electric platform aimed at small farms to take care of cultivating, tilling, and weeding seedbeds. The cost of this kind of labor can push smaller farms out of sustainability if it has to be done by people.

Greater efficiency in agriculture is traditionally all about multiplying the work a single person can do, and usually takes the form or bigger and heavier equipment that can do more at once and in less time. But with an autonomous robotic platform, the robot doesn’t get tired or bored so it doesn’t matter if the smaller platform needs to make multiple passes to cover a field or accomplish a task. In fact, smaller often means more maneuverable, more manageable, and more energy-efficient when it comes to a small farm.

The Original Weedinator was a contender for the 2017 Hackaday Prize and we’re deeply excited to see it return with an updated design and new people joining their team for 2018. Remember, there’s money set aside to help bootstrap promising concepts and all you really need to get started is an idea, an image, and documentation. There’s no better opportunity to dust off that idea and see if it has legs.

Hyperspectral Imaging – Seeing The Unseeable

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. But what is a picture exactly? One definition would be a perfect reflection of what we see, like one taken with a basic camera. Our view of the natural world is constrained to a bandwidth of 400 to 700 nanometers within the electromagnetic spectrum, so our cameras produce images within this same bandwidth.

Image via Cosmos Magazine.

For example, if I take a picture of a yellow flower with my phone, the image will look just about how I saw it with my own eyes. But what if we could see the flower from a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum? What if we could see less than 400 nm or greater than 700 nm? A bee, like many other insects, can see in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum which occupies the area below 400 nm. This “yellow” flower looks drastically different to us versus a bee.

In this article, we’re going to explore how images can be produced to show spectral information outside of our limited visual capacity, and take a look at the multi-spectral cameras used to make them.  We’ll find that while it may be true that an image is worth a thousand words, it is also true that an image taken with a hyperspectral camera can be worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of useful data points. Continue reading “Hyperspectral Imaging – Seeing The Unseeable”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Crop Data For Improved Yields

As the world’s population continues to increase, more food will be needed for all the extra mouths to feed. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of untapped available farmland. To produce extra food, crop yields need to increase. [Vignesh Ravichandran] is tackling this with the Farmcorder – a device for detecting crop nutrition levels.

The device centers around using spectroscopy to measure the chlorophyll content of leaves. This information can then be used to make educated decisions on the fertilizer required to maximize plant yield. In the past, this has been achieved with expensive bespoke devices, or, at the other end of the spectrum, simple paper color charts.

[Vignesh]’s project takes this to the next level, integrating a spectroscopy package with a GPS and logging over the GSM mobile network. This would allow farmers to easily take measurements out in the field and log them by location, allowing fertilizer application to be dialed in on a per-location basis.  The leaf sensor package is particularly impressive. Relying on a TSL2561 sensor IC, the samples are lit with 650nm and 940nm LEDs. The sensor readings can then be used to calculate the chlorophyll levels in the leaves.

It’s a project that sets out to tackle a serious world problem and uses off-the-shelf parts and some hacker know-how to do so. We hope to see this hardware on farms across the world in the near future!

Retrotechtacular: Farming Implements In 1932

Few people would deny that farming is hard work. It always has been, and it probably always will be no matter how fancy the equipment gets. In 1932, farming was especially grueling. There was widespread drought throughout the United States, which gave rise to dust bowl conditions. As if those two things weren’t bad enough, the average income of the American farmer fell to its lowest point during the Depression, thanks to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.

Even so, crop farming was still a viable and somewhat popular career path in 1932. After all, knowing how to grow food is always going to get you elected into your local post-apocalyptic council pretty quickly. As such, the John Deere Equipment Company released the 19th edition of their classic book, The Operation, Care, and Repair of Farm Machinery. This book covers all of the various equipment a crop farmer needed to get from plough to bounty. The text gives equal consideration to horse-driven and tractor-driven farming implements, and there’s an entire chapter dedicated to tractor engine maintenance.

According to its preface, this book was used as an agricultural text in schools and work-study programs. It offers a full course in maintaining the all the (John Deere) equipment needed to work the soil, plant crops, cultivate, harvest, and manure in all parts of the country. The Operation, Care, and Repair of Farm Machinery was so well-received that John Deere kept the book in publication for over thirty years. The 28th edition and final edition came out in 1957. We wonder why they would have stopped putting it out after all that time. Maybe it wasn’t profitable enough, or the company decided to phase out the shade tree tractor mechanic.

So why should you delve into a sorely outdated textbook about farm equipment? Well, it’s straightforwardly written and easy to learn from, whether you’re trying or not. You should check it out if you’re even remotely curious about the basics of farming. If for no other reason, you should go for the beautiful hand-drawn illustrations and stay for the interesting tables and charts in the back. Did you know that a gallon of milk weighs 8.6 pounds?

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Farming Implements In 1932”

Submersible Robots Hunt Lice With Lasers

De-lousing is a trying agricultural process. It becomes a major problem in pens which contain the hundreds of thousands of salmon farmed by Norwegians — the world’s largest salmon exporter — an environment which allows the parasite to flourish. To tackle the problem, the Stingray, developed by [Stingray Marine Solutions],  is an autonomous drone capable of destroying the lice with a laser in the order of tens of thousands per day.

Introduced in Norway back in 2014 — and some areas in Scotland in 2016 — the Stingray floats in the salmon pen, alert and waiting. If the lice-recognition software (never thought you’d hear that term, huh?) detects a parasite for more than two frames in the video feed, it immediately annihilates it with a 530 nanometre-wide, 100 millisecond laser pulse from up to two metres away. Don’t worry — the salmon’s scales are reflective enough to leave it unharmed, while the pest is fried to a crisp.  In action, it’s reminiscent of a point-defense laser on a spaceship.

Continue reading “Submersible Robots Hunt Lice With Lasers”

OpenAg Is A Personal Food Computer

When a device that calls itself a personal food computer lands in your timeline, what image springs to mind? A cloud-connected diet aid perhaps, advertised on TV infomercials by improbably fit-looking Californian ladies crediting all their health to a palm-sized unit that can be yours for only 199 dollars. Fortunately that proved not to be the case, and on further reading our timeline story was revealed to be about a computerized farming device.

The OpenAg Food Computer  from the MIT Media Lab Open Agriculture Initiative bills itself as:

“a controlled-environment agriculture technology platform that uses robotic systems to control and monitor climate, energy, and plant growth inside of a specialized growing chamber”

It takes the form of a tabletop enclosure in which so-called climate recipes to replicate different conditions for plant growth can be tested. It’s probably fair to say that in this most basic form it is more of an educational device than one for full-scale food production, though they are applying the same technologies at a much greater scale. Their so-called “Food servers” are banks of OpenAg environments in freight containers, which definitely could be used to provide viable quantities of produce.

The good news is that the project is open source, and their latest story is that they have released version 2.0(alpha) of the device. If you are interested, you can read the documentation, and find all the resources you need to build one on their GitHub repository. They page linked above has a video that’s very much of the slick PR variety rather than the nuts-and-bolts, so we’ve sought out their build video for you below the break instead. Continue reading “OpenAg Is A Personal Food Computer”

Autonomous Plant Watering Thingamajig

[Eitan] is one of those guys whose plants keep tottering between life and death. Can’t blame the plants, because he just keeps forgetting when to water them. But keeping them hydrated requires him to get off his butt and actually water them. Surely, there had to be an easier solution which needed him to do nothing and yet prevent his plants from dying. Being lazy has its benefits, so he built his own super simple Autonomous Plant Watering Thingamajig.

He needed a water pump, but all he had was an air pump. So he hooked it up to force air in to a sealed container and push the water out. To make the setup autonomous, he connected the pump to a WiFi-enabled wall socket and then programmed it to dispense water at regular intervals. It may take him some time to fine tune the right interval and duration for his setup over the next few weeks, but right now, it’s pumping water for a short duration once every week.

The important thing for a system like this to work is to ensure it is well sealed. Any air leakage will require an increasing amount of air to be pumped in to the container as the water level keeps reducing. Without knowing the actual level of water in the container, it isn’t easy to compensate for this via programming. And that’s the other problem. [Eitan] will still have to periodically check his mason jar for water, and top it up manually. Maybe his next hack will take care of that. We’re thinking a Rube Goldberg watering system would be awesome. It’s nice when people put on their thinking caps and say “Okay, here’s a problem, how do I solve it?” instead of going out and buying an off-the-shelf device.

Thanks, [Clay], for sending in this tip.