NNU Awarded Sizable Research Grant from ISDA
Nampa Idaho—Northwest Nazarene University announced that Dr. Duke Bulanon, NNU professor of engineering, has received a grant from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) to support the development of the University’s OrBot project. OrBot is a fruit harvesting robot prototype that Bulanon has been developing with a team of undergraduate NNU students.
“This grant provides the means for our Computer Science and Engineering students to get revolutionary, hands-on experience applying what they are learning in the classroom. Very few students get this kind of opportunity,” Bulanon said. “Additionally, it helps them begin to envision how their degree can be used to better their communities, which is a key part of an NNU education.”
This competitive grant, totaling $131,784, will enable the project to move from conception to prototype. The main goal of the project is to develop an Orchard Robot (OrBot) that can be programmed to do various agricultural tasks, with specific attention devoted to harvesting. The undergraduate students will be programming the robot to find fruit through machine vision, move toward the fruit through manipulator control and pick the fruit through the robotic gripper.
The project has been developed in direct response to local agricultural needs:
“As the Robotics Vision team interacted with the farmers [on a previous project], the farmers identified the main challenge in today's fruit growing business as the lack of available labor, especially harvesting. The development of a robotic harvesting system could help meet this need,” Bulanon said.
The OrBot project is the fifth grant awarded to NNU by the ISDA. OrBot is an extension of the other ISDA funded projects that include the Crop Monitoring and Assessment Platform, IdaBOT and the Fruit Yield App.
Within the last year, ISDA has approved more than $1.8 million to 17 crop projects around Idaho and, since 2009, they have awarded approximately $150 million from the United States Department of Agriculture to more than 140 projects supporting Idaho’s specialty crop industries.