Engineering students win $50,000 prize

By Costa Maragos Posted: May 9, 2016 1:30 p.m.

(l-r) Dean Kertai, Caleb Friedrick, Sam Dietrich and Joshua Friedrick with their automated seeder following the competition in Indiana.
(l-r) Dean Kertai, Caleb Friedrick, Sam Dietrich and Joshua Friedrick with their automated seeder following the competition in Indiana. Photo courtesy of Dave Charrlin.

A team of students from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science has returned home as champions.

The U of R team of Sam Dietrich, Joshua Friedrick and Caleb Friedrick has won the 2016 agBOT Challenge held at Gerrish Farms near Rockville, Indiana and in the process providing us with a glimpse into the future of precision agriculture. The team was awarded a first place prize of $50,000 (US).

The students worked under the supervision of Dr. Mehran Mehrandezh, associate professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.
As impressive was the third place tie for alumnus Nathan Muchowski, a graduate of the Electronic Systems Engineering program in 2012. Muchowski was representing his family’s farming operation Muchowski Farms of Odessa, Sask.

The agBOT Challenge featured 11 competitive teams demonstrating their innovative robotics for farming.

The University of Regina, the only Canadian university represented at the competition, competed against six other universities including Purdue (finished in second place), Ohio State, Michigan State and Virginia Tech University. The event also attracted some major players in the agricultural world including Monsanto, John Deere, AGCO and Yamaha.

“It was very rewarding to win. We put in a lot of work,” says Joshua Friedrick.

The student teams were challenged with developing the most efficient unmanned crop seeder capable of planting two varieties of seed over half-mile-long rows, while providing real-time data utilizing a mobile tracking antenna.

The students have been working hard since last summer, developing the hardware, software, sensors and human-machine control interfaces. The goal was to give the farming equipment a set of seeding coordinates that both seeded and fertilized the desired area while providing real time information.

Their hard work paid off.

“We were pulling all nighters working on code and the tractor right up until our presentation,” says Joshua. “It was an amazingly well organized competition with great people to talk with. Lots of individual as well as corporation innovation.”

Says Caleb Friedrick, “agriculture business owners from all over North America came down to see what the teams had developed, and they liked what they saw.”

Says Sam Dietrich, “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,”

The agBOT victory puts the finishing touches to the students’ fourth year engineering year. They will graduate in June but the accolades won’t stop there. Prior to the competition, the project found fans with the Saskatchewan government. The students will be recognized for their work during one of the upcoming sessions of the Saskatchewan Legislature.

The win was made possible thanks to Seed Hawk/Vaderstad of Langbank, Sask., Swift Navigation, Kubota/Young’s Equipment of Regina, Flaman, The U of R Students’ Union, Regina Engineering Students Society, the U of R, Kurt Dietrich, Chris and Theresa Vanderstol and the technical expertise of former U of R student Dean Kertai.