Agrivoltaics Is A Land Usage Hack For Maximum Productivity

Land tends to be a valuable thing. Outside of some weird projects in Dubai, by and large, they aren’t making any more of it. That means as we try to feed and power the ever-growing population of humanity, we need to think carefully about how we use the land we have.

The field of agrivoltaics concerns itself with the dual-use of land for both food production and power generation. It’s all about getting the most out of the the available land and available sunlight we have.

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Open-Source Farming Robot Now Includes Simulations

Farming is a challenge under even the best of circumstances. Almost all conventional farmers use some combination of tillers, combines, seeders and plows to help get the difficult job done, but for those like [Taylor] who do not farm large industrial monocultures, more specialized tools are needed. While we’ve featured the Acorn open source farming robot before, it’s back now with new and improved features and a simulation mode to help rapidly improve the platform’s software.

The first of the two new physical features includes a fail-safe braking system. Since the robot uses electric geared hub motors for propulsion, the braking system consists of two normally closed relays which short the motor leads in emergency situations. This makes the motors see an extremely high load and stops them from turning. The robot also has been given advanced navigation facilities so that it can follow custom complex routes. And finally, [Taylor] created a simulation mode so that the robot’s entire software stack can be run in Docker and tested inside a simulation without using the actual robot.

For farmers who are looking to buck unsustainable modern agricultural practices while maintaining profitable farms, a platform like Acorn could be invaluable. With the ability to survey, seed, harvest, and even weed, it could perform every task of larger agricultural machinery. Of course, if you want to learn more about it, you can check out our earlier feature on this futuristic farming machine.

Better Farming Through Electricity

Chinese researchers are reporting that applying an electric field to pea plants increased yields. This process — known as electroculture — has been tested multiple times, but in each case there are irregularities in the scientific process, so there is still an opportunity for controlled research to produce meaningful data.

This recent research used two plots of peas planted from the same pods. The plants were tended identically except one plot was stimulated by an electric field. The yield on the stimulated plot was about 20% more than the control plot.

The actual paper is paywalled in the journal Nature Food, but the idea seems simple enough. If you search for the topic, you’ll find there have been other studies with similar findings. There are also anecdotal reports of electrical plant stimulation going back to 1746.

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Going Forward To The Land: Technology For Permaculture

It’s usual for a Hackaday scribe to read hundreds of web pages over a typical week as we traverse the world in search of the good stuff to bring you. Sometimes they’re obvious Hackaday stories but as you’ll all no doubt understand we often end up on wild tangents learning about stuff we never expected to be excited about. Thus it was last week that I happened upon a GQ piece charting the dwindling remains of the communes set up in rural California by hippies during the counterculture years.

With only a few ageing residents who truly embraced the back-to-the-land dream remaining, these adventurously-designed home-made houses are gently decaying into the forest. It’s a disappearing world, but it’s also close to home for me as someone who crew up on a self-sufficiency smallholding in the 1970s. My parents may not have been hippies in the way those of everyone else in that scene at the time seemed to be, but I learned all my curiosity and hacking skills in the many opportunities presented to a small child by an unruly combination of small farm and metalworking business. There’s part of me that would build a hippy home in a Californian forest in a heartbeat, and throw myself with gusto into subsistence vegetable growing to get me through each winter.

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What’s Chia, And Why Is It Eating All The Hard Drives?

At this point the average Hackaday reader is likely familiar with so-called “Proof of Work” (PoW) cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Dogecoin. In the most basic of terms, these cryptocurrencies allow users to earn money by devoting computational power to the network. Unfortunately, it’s well past the point where your standard desktop CPU is moving enough bits to earn anything worthwhile. Individuals looking to turn a profit have therefore resorted to constructing arrays of high-end graphics cards for the express purpose of “mining” their cryptocurrency of choice.

These miners, combined with ongoing chip shortages, have ravaged the GPU market. Anyone who’s looked at building or upgrading a computer recently will know that new video cards are in short supply, and even old models that would otherwise be considered budget options, are commanding outrageous prices. In an effort to appease their core customers, NVIDIA has even introduced cryptocurrency-specific cards that lack video output. The hope was that professional miners would buy these Cryptocurrency Mining Processors (CMPs) instead of the traditional video cards, freeing up the latter for purchase by gamers. But due to the limited availability and relatively high cost of CMPs, they’ve done little to improve the situation.

Now if you don’t use your computer for gaming, this probably seems like a distant problem. You could even be forgiven for thinking of this as little more than two largely frivolous pursuits at loggerheads with each other. After all, in a community that still holds decades-old Thinkpads as the high water mark in portable computing, a certain ambivalence about cutting edge video cards is perhaps to be expected.

But there’s a new form of cryptocurrency on the rise which threatens more than just the hardcore gamers. With “Proof of Space” (PoS) cryptocurrencies, it’s not about having the fastest CPU or the highest number of GPUs; the commodity being traded is storage space, and the player with the most hard drives wins.

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Tractors And The Right To Repair: It’s Going Global

For more than a few years now, we’ve been covering the saga of tractors from the larger manufacturers on which all components are locked down by software to the extent that they can only be replaced by officially sanctioned dealers. We’re thus pleased to see a couple of moments when the story has broken out of the field of a few farmers and right-to-repair geeks and into the mainstream. First up:  a segment on the subject from NPR is worth a listen, as the US public radio station interviews a Montana farmer hit by a $5k fuel sensor on his John Deere as a hook form which to examine the issue. Then there is a blog post from the National Farmers Union, the body representing UK farmers, in which they too lay out the situation and also highlight the data-grabbing aspects of these machines.

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Automate Your Poultry With CoopCommand

A fresh egg taken from beneath a slumbering hen is something to which the taste of a supermarket equivalent rarely compares. The satisfaction of having a contented flock does come at a price though, in the form of constant monitoring and husbandry of your poultry’s well-being. It’s a problem that [hms-11] has tried to address with CoopCommand, a system to automate the monitoring of and environment within a chicken coop. It controls a light to counteract for shorter winter days, warms their water when it’s cold, has a fan for cooling and ventilation on hot days, and a camera to keep any eye on them.

At its heart is an ATmega328 controlling the coop functions, and an ESP32 camera board for network connectivity and visual monitoring. An alphanumeric LCD and a set or buttons provide the interface, and all is fitted on a custom PCB in a smart 3D-printed housing. Meanwhile all the files can be found in a GitHub repository.

A machine cannot replace human care and attention when it comes to good animal husbandry, as there’s always an essential need for the poultry owner to attend to the needs of their charges. But a system like this one can make an important contribution to their welfare, with a consequent increase in their laying ability.