Using robotics to improve farming

By Dale Johnson Posted: August 7, 2015 6:00 a.m.

Dr. Mehran Mehrandezh (left) is the advisor for the U of R team which includes Joshua Friedrick, in the international agBOT competition.
Dr. Mehran Mehrandezh (left) is the advisor for the U of R team which includes Joshua Friedrick, in the international agBOT competition. Photo courtesy of Rae Graham – U of R Photography.

Three University of Regina industrial engineering students are trying to come up with ways to make farming more efficient through the use of robotics – and they will demonstrate their creation at an international competition next year in Indiana.

Sam Dietrich, Caleb Friedrick and Joshua Friedrick are fourth-year students supervised Dr. Mehran Mehrandezh. They make up the only university team from outside the United States in the agBOT competition. Other entries include teams from Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University and Virginia Tech University.

The competition sees each team designing and building the hardware, software, sensors, and human-machine control interfaces that will drive their robots, which will plant and fertilize 12 rows of crops, each a half mile long, in an assigned set of GPS coordinates.

The competition will be held on May 7, 2016, near Rockville, Indiana. The team judged to have the most successful design will be awarded $50,000. The competition also includes a $30,000 second-place prize and a $20,000 prize for a third-place finish.

“Field robotics is an emerging research area. This will give the students a chance to apply the theory they have learned in their classes,” says Mehrandezh.

The team will have a busy winter. Right now, they are in the preliminary design stage, which includes talking to agricultural manufacturing firms to gain support through funding and equipment donations.

“As we are still in the design stage and the competition is highly competitive, we can't reveal too much. The final solution will be an autonomous piece of farming equipment that once given a set of seeding coordinates will both seed and fertilizer the desired area while providing real time information to a control room,” explains Dietrich.

“The University of Regina as a whole and our faculty in particular, provides a unique opportunity for students to engage with local industry and businesses early on. The co-operative education programs, summer internships, and the year-long fourth-year engineering project course all help to give students an early start on a entrepreneurship culture and mind set,” says Mehrandezh.

“This is valuable recognition for the University as it shows the strengths of our Industrial Systems Engineering program, which incorporates elements of traditional engineering disciplines such as Mechanical and Electrical, but also takes a systems approach to design,” says Dietrich.

"Anytime you can gain hands-on experience within a subject your skill level and expertise skyrocket. As a student, it’s vital to enter these competitions because it's directly applicable to real world engineering problems," he adds.