Robotics Vision Team researches crop monitoring to aid local agriculture

July 14, 2014, 11:19 am
Robotics Vision team  7-14-14

NNU’s Department of Engineering has been busy this summer with several teams conducting research in conjunction with NASA programs. One of those teams is NNU Robotics Vision. The team consists of John Lonani (Milton Freewater, Ore.), Darrell Leber (Lake Stevens, Wash.), Paulo Salvador (Sao Paulo, Brazil) and Heather Skovgard (Kuna, Idaho), under the direction of Assistant Professor of Engineering Dr. Duke Bulanon. This research group is dedicated to exploring machine vision technologies, which are used not only for automation and robotics but also for other areas such as agriculture. The research is funded by grants from the Idaho Space Grant Consortium (a branch of NASA), the Idaho Department of Agriculture and the Watson Fellowship.

The team is currently working on designing and perfecting an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can be used for monitoring agricultural fields. The goal of this research is to design a low-cost option for farmers to use in planning the planting of their fields and in determining how to distribute their resources according to that plan. This could “improve crop production efficiency to sustain agricultural production not only in Idaho but the whole world,” Skovgard explains.

In addition to the research that the Robotics Vision Team is doing, they are also taking time to reach out and educate the community. They hope their research will not only benefit local farmers but also be useful in educating kids about science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) fields. The team has been visiting local classrooms throughout the Treasure Valley. They explain and demonstrate their research and use the UAV to take a picture of the class. It is a fun, hands-on way for kids to learn about the options that scientific research could hold for them in the future and a way for the Robotics Vision team to give back to the community and spread the word about what they are doing.

The team also presents at local agricultural information meetings, events and conferences around the area, which gives them the chance to connect with farmers about this tool that the team hopes will be useful to the farmers in the future. Robotics Vision is presenting at the Idaho Conference on Undergraduate Research at Boise State the end of July, and their next public event is Sept. 5 at the University of Idaho Annual Field Fruit Day, where the team will demonstrate the crop monitoring technology they have been working on.

The team will travel to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., October 13-14 to visit with the Mobility and Robotic Systems Section of JPL. The team has been working with JPL as part of the grant from the Idaho Space Grant Consortium.

PHOTO CAP: Robotics Vision Team members left to right: Darrell Leber, John Lonani, Dr. Bulanon and Heather Skovgard.

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