Autonomous agBOT Challenge 2019

By June 13, 2019 No Comments

The agBOT challenge is an international competition designed to motivate universities and entrepreneurs to develop innovative, high-tech solutions to advance the agricultural industry.

Founded in 2015 by Steve Gerrish, owner of Gerrish Farms in Indiana and his daughter Rachel Gerrish, the event has become a must for companies, researchers, students and hobbyists interested in agricultural robotics.

JCA Electronics was in attendance for the 2019 agBOT competition in Purdue University in Indiana where the team sponsored by JCA, the University of Manitoba’s Agricultural Robotics Team (UM-agBOT), placed third in the “Weed and Feed” category.

The University of Manitoba’s Agricultural Robotics Team (UM-agBOT) was founded a year ago by University of Manitoba’s Biosystems Engineering students and its dedicated to empowering students to think creatively about agricultural engineering problems, as well as giving students access to industry level robotic software and hardware.

For the agBOT competition this year the UM-agBOT team used JCA controllers configured to work in a Robotic Operating System (ROS) environment to control the different systems of an autonomous farming vehicle that could navigate rows of corn, identify plants, deliver fertilizer, eradicate weeds and provide real-time observation.

We invited the UM-agBOT team to share their story,  below is a firsthand account of their experience at the 2019 agBOT competition.

This competition this year tasked teams to produce an autonomous machine to achieve several goals, such as identifying and destroying weed, as well as navigating a field. We left the University of Manitoba at 5 am May 14th with the agBOT loaded up in the trailer and started the 18+ hour drive to Indiana. Most of the team came on the trip with the addition of the biosystems’ technician: Eric Hawley, Franklin Ogidi, George Dyck, and Marcel Lehmann. We arrived at 3 am local time, unpacked some things, and most of us immediately fell asleep. The competition was intense, and likely the most dedicated hours spent with the machine.

We heard horror stories from groups after shipping projects to competition their controllers had fallen apart, relay banks, and capacitors littering the floor of their trailer. We happily can corroborate that JCA’s controllers are incredibly rugged devices, and arrived in the same condition as we packed them up in. Moreover, we noticed that other teams had large messy and temperamental electrical systems consisting of large relay banks and impossible wiring system, which needed multiple students to maintain whereas we had two simple controllers, the Hummingbird and Falcon, that mounted to a side of the ATV. A simple harness ran from these controllers to our components, delivering a reliable 12 V to power actuators, solenoids, pumps, and powering sensors as well as giving a stable reference voltage. The two controllers were capable of reading CAN BUS messages, analogue and digital signals, connecting to Ethernet and wifi, and had ROS nodes that we easily incorporated into our software. Using the preexisting CAN BUS messages, stock in almost all automotive systems, we had access to all stock sensors that came with the ATV for software and streaming information, which was something no other team incorporated. The Hummingbird and Falcon allowed us to focus on working on calibration and performance while other groups were fixing their electrical systems.

Everyone on the team would agree that the three days at the competition were intense, and was the most dedicated and focused time working on the project. Thanks to the strong existing team friendship as well as the support of several sources, notably JCA, we managed to get the agBOT up and running in time for competition, taking third place. Categories of assessment were mechanics, software, innovative solution, and execution by judges from agricultural companies. This podium place included a trophy we brought back to Canada as well as cash prize, which UM-agBOT is excited to put towards new autonomous projects included soil sampling and microbe mining, an automated greenhouse, as well as improving the existing platform.

JCA’s hardware and software have been essential to the development and success of UM-agBOT this year. We look forward to continuing and growing our partnership with JCA Electronics over the next academic year.