Degree students from Belgium Campus iTversity have partnered with students from Penn State University to construct a small-scale vertical farming robot. The prototype will serve as proof of concept for a full-scale robot capable of navigating a 3-story vertical hydroponic farm, CAN-Agri, in order to automatically plant and harvest crops. Successful automation of this process, which is currently carried out by hand, will result in higher yields per meter square of crops, allowing for continuous and consistent supply to consumers.
In order to achieve this, participating students have been divided into 5 multidisciplinary groups, comprising of both software engineering students from Belgium Campus and mechanical and civil engineering students from Penn State. Each group is responsible for a different component of the robot which will be integrated at the end to create a fully functioning system. The Penn State students will work on all the hardware elements, while the Belgium Campus students develop the software that will be used to control the robot. The groups, and their respective responsibilities, are as follows:
Group 1: Responsible for the seeding mechanism.
Group 2: Responsible for the object detection component.
Group 3: Responsible for the harvesting mechanism.
Group 4: Responsible for the autonomous navigation aspect.
Group 5: Responsible for the identification and provision of a cost-effective and sustainable power source.
The project is an entirely virtual collaboration, meaning all the communication and planning between students will take place online. As such, participating students are not only challenged to use their degree knowledge to develop robotics cost-effectively, but also to develop the competencies needed to succeed in today’s increasingly digital/ globalised world.
“This project is challenging us to overcome difficulties including differences in time zones and communication and cultural barriers. This is especially important in the context of the worldwide pandemic where face-to-face interactions are in many cases just not possible. Learning to interact with and develop tolerance for different cultures is preparing us to become engineers and leaders capable of adapting to ensure the success of a project, regardless of the space we find ourselves in.” – Belgium Campus software engineering degree student, David Maila.
The project is currently still in the ideation phase, but the students are set to begin prototyping next week and we are eager to see how the project develops.