The AgBot Collaboration

4/9/2019

Allie Arp, CSL

Check out the AgBots in action!
Check out the AgBots in action!

CSL’s Girish Chowdhary is using robotics to revolutionize the agriculture industry. He is co-developing agbots that can traverse through fields, collecting data and scouting for potential problems (Read more about the agbots here.) These small bots take expertise from a lot of disciplines. Today, we’ll look at the cross-campus collaboration that made these ag robots of the future possible.

Original sketches from industrial design student Tony Alfaro.
Original sketches from industrial design student Tony Alfaro.

Above are among the first sketches Industrial Design (ID) undergraduate student Tony Alfaro drew to design the robot. There have been many iterations since the original design, including the two frames below which were created in 2018.

Two different generations of the AgBots, side by side.
Two different generations of the AgBots, side by side.

CSL’s Girsh Chowdhary and EarthSense CEO Chinmay Soman bring years of engineering and software expertise, but they reached out to on-campus design experts to further the design of their plans. Deana McDonagh, Health Care Engineering Systems Center (HCESC) chief industrial designer and professor of ID in the School of Art + Design, was Alfaro’s adviser and has been with the project since the beginning.

“This is a wonderful example of how scientists thought design could improve the consumer experience as well as efficiency and functionality,” said McDonagh, Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology professor.

Different body options for the AgBots
Different body options for the AgBots

Some of the design elements that have been added by Earthsense’s Design Lead Mike Hansen include finger holes under the ends of the robot to improve grip and comfort, a curve along the edge of the body to make it easier and more comfortable to carry and a more svelte and compact frame. The robots also have lights with self-stabilizing cameras on each side of the body.

Hansen, another former ID student, named each and every one of the 50 robots currently in production after a famous robot. The model for this article’s photo shoot was K.I.T.T, named after the famous car from the Knight Rider television show.

K.I.T.T. the AgBot was named after the robot from Knight Rider.
K.I.T.T. the AgBot was named after the robot from Knight Rider.

While a lot of thought has been put into the design of these agbots, the design can’t get in the way of their purpose. The team is continuously reworking the software as well as the hardware of the robots to improve functionality. There have been three generations of the agbot since the start of 2019. The third generation will be deployed and field-tested over the next six months.

The AgBots have been field-tested to ensure performance for their intended use. Testing will continue this summer.
The AgBots have been field-tested to ensure performance for their intended use. Testing will continue this summer.

Once field testing has been completed, the potential applications for this type of technology are numerous. Weeding fields, scouting for diseases, and even picking berries with soft appendages, are just some of the ideas the group has in mind for this versatile, and adorable, agbot.

AgBot glamour shot.
AgBot glamour shot.

The collaboration on this project has reached a number of departments across campus. In addition to CSL, ID, HCESC, and the Beckman Institute, there is expertise in the form of faculty and students from the departments of Aerospace Engineering, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Computer ScienceCrop Sciences, Electrical and Computer EngineeringIndustrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering, and Mechanical Science and Engineering.