At the time, Tian was working on a robot that could go into the field and continuously collect data, but the battery that powered the system required charging about every two hours.
"So I thought, what if we had a system that could collect data, but could also convert the heat of the sun into an energy source?" said Tian. "We could replace the grad student worker with this robotic system."
That system evolved into today's model, and two different grad students worked with Tian to present a paper on the robot at the Annual International Meeting of Agricultural and Biological Engineers this July in Portland, Oregon.
Hong Young Jeon, a PhD candidate in agricultural and biological engineering, and Nathanael Gingrich, a master's student, have worked steadily on the system design that cuts the weed and applies herbicide. They have also mounted the curved solar panel that powers the robot.
"We custom-built a shelf that holds the solar panel," said Gingrich. "It also protects the machine from weather and gives it shade for its vision system."
Although the robot is equipped with ultrasonic sensors that go all the way around the machine, "we're going to try and use only the camera vision for navigation," said Jeon, "which makes it a lot more difficult."
The robot stands a little more than two feet tall, is 28 inches wide and almost five feet long. He can travel about three miles per hour and moves on wheels, although the researchers have treads they can put on him as well, to give him more grip.
At the current stage, the robot is used to combat weed infestation, but in the future, Gingrich and Jeon hope to place different sensors and cameras on the robotic arm that would be used to judge soil properties or plant conditions.
"It has a full-blown Windows computer with an 80-gigabyte hard drive and a wireless connection to the Int
Source:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign