The whole robot and software is licensed CC0 and BSD respectively. Onshape and github links are on the site I promote in the videos.
Would any of you want to build something like this? What would you use it for? Anything you would want that this one is missing?
Not sure how appropriate the form factor is for you, but maybe you can at least find some useful ideas for your own gearbox design.
- somewhat large (about this rover size) so it can drive around a typical residential yard mixed in with occasional obstacle
- sturdy enough to carry payloads like 1/2 gallon of water or so, survive a kid sitting on it, etc.
- relatively water resistant. Doesn't need to survive falling into a pool, but operating during light rain and especially dew would be great. Needs a payload housing that would protect hosted electronics from getting wet.
I'm not even sure how much the suspension is needed, I feel as long as the wheels are independently driven and relatively large that would be OK.
Mission #1: chase away squirrels and rabbits
Mission #2: shoot them with a water jet/acorn launcher :-)
Mission #3: real-time video feed and remote control to explore the woods at night
I've been thinking about a suite of robots on the residential level that could not only mow the grass and edge it, but also shovel snow, and perhaps eventually prune plants and pick the harvest. If a base, plus a suite of attachments, could be affordable at less than $5k retail, I would buy it.
As robotics matures as a field, the engineering costs to accomplish this will go down, as will per unit costs. Maybe in 20 years time such a multi bot could be available. It’s hard to predict the future and probably of questionable merit. That said I’ve become much more pessimistic about timelines for robotics as I’ve continued to work in the industry.
My hope though is that open source robotics can keep pace with the industry as time goes on, just as open source operating systems have kept pace with their closed source counterparts. That way people will have options when the technology does become feasible.
If you don't care about energy costs, you could put a hotwater system under your driveway, I've seen a few of these now.
I think one major issue is getting people from the city to the farms during harvest time. It's a problem of coordination and transport.
I'm just saying this would be a good space to start, if the robotics dev economics made sense: the market is there.
Still seems silly.
You could let your yard go back to the wild and that would be cool by me, but where I live people who replace their lawn go with mix of bushes, flowers, and trees with paths and other landscape features that require a lot more man hours in pruning, trimming, leafblowing, etc to keep looking good.
So now instead of a weekly visit by a landscape crew of 3 to cut and maintain the lawn, we have a bi-weekly visit by a single person to do some light weeding and raking.
The suspension and driving action are very impressive!
You can also read an essay that explains my motivations for working on this kind of thing more broadly:
But a robot capable of recognizing all the plants could tell... and could selectively harvest just what is needed.
I suspect this is a very difficult problem however just because of how varied individual plants can be... telling plants apart can be hard even for trained humans.
Actually, it's not. Despite all the hype surrounding deep learning, tasks like telling similar looking plants apart is precisely what's it's good at. In fact, it will probably be better than most humans at this task. Moreover, it's simple to implement. You take off the shelf model (e.g. ResNet-50) trained on ImageNet, and finetune it on a dataset of specific plants you want it to recognize (~1000 examples of each plant). Then you can run that model on an iPhone (or even on much cheaper hardware)
A much harder problem is to make the robot move through the terrain without getting stuck. But even there, looking at what Boston Dynamics is doing, it seems like we are not that far off.
Without making it particularly sturdy, it was able to lift 4 kg and has a pretty good movement repeatability even if totally "blind" (I am currently working on its vision system), two things that drone would have a hard time duplicating in outdoor conditions.
I can PM you later when we have all the things set up if you want. Or we can just chat here.
In order to make the system mobile I'm making a sort of tiny tractor that relocates the bases of the support struts (I use a tripod.) You can have separate symbiotic fleets of static "heads" (tripod+wirebot) that are moved by mobile "rovers".
This lets you optimize the system a little better, since most of the time the head units will be working and largely stationary, so a small fleet of rovers could be enough to handle a large fleet of processors.
For ricefields I think you might sink stepping stones in a triangle "grid", maybe concrete cones about a meter long and 10cm at the base, inverted and stuck in the mud. The distance between them would be fixed by the span of the suspended robot.
You would also want "vascular" conduits to transport material to and from the working heads. These aren't necessarily physical tubes or conveyor belts, they could be made of simple cargo drones like streams of ants.
You could make bridge or rail units that fit between the stepping stones for temporary reconfigurable transport networks. (If your cargo drones are sure-footed and reliable these could be simple planks.)
Also, have you heard of Hangprinter? https://vitana.se/opr3d/tbear/ (I have no affiliation w/ it.) It's a "RepRap hanging from the ceiling"
I don't think any rice farmer would like to put concrete blocks in their fields unless every task is reliably automated: they depend on machines to prepare, plant and harvest the rice and a stone in the middle of a ricefield would make these steps harder.
I know that there are several projects using wirebots for 3d printing. It usually allows for a bigger printing volume than regular CNC-like designs, and I think they must be able to have a high precision too. I am wondering what is the limitation there.
Do you have any contact info?
Passing tools among a neighboring system is going to be hard as there is a "dead zone" bordering the rectangle drawn by the pole but there may be a way to smartly cross the wires so that two system may share an area where they could pass around tools.
Harvesting is actually, counter-intuitively, a low priority task IMO. This is usually a single day of work, and this is the one with the highest stake, where things going wrong can jeopardize your whole harvest. People will want to be present for it I think.
What needs to be automated first are the tedious tasks that need to be done repeatedly : weeding, monitoring, watering.
About harvesting, a farmer friend proposed something interesting: just pass bags/baskets from the field's side to the place when the human is inside the field. Ricefields are very muddy and if you work in the middle of one, doing back and forth to the border is really tedious.
Imagine being able to plant, weed, and harvest strawberries from a center pivot. Huge.
... at scale. Humans do farm this way -- I've seen fancy shade-grown coffee being grown in what looks like a jungle. But it requires a huge amount of manual labor, right now.
I think we'll get there at making machines do this. Deciding whether a leaf is one of the 4 crops you're growing, or not, sounds much easier than distinguishing all the close relatives of wild plants.
There are two different senses of "efficiency" in farming (or other production). One is the amount of food you get per unit of human labor input. Supporting a fully urbanized population requires this metric to be high.
But the other sense is the amount of food you get per unit of land input. A society that maximizes this metric will produce more food and have a higher population than a society maximizing the first one. But most of those people will be subsistence farmers who don't earn much more than the marginal extra food they provide by intensively caring for the land. This is why historically most of the population -- anywhere -- was rural peasants.
The grotesquely inefficient capitalist who uses a workforce of 10 people and 300 acres of land to produce the yield of 50 acres of land is part of a "wealthy" society -- everyone else has more food because of his very low need for labor. But it's also a very low-population society. In a more traditional society, all the land would be farmed efficiently and the population would be much larger, but non-farmers would have much less surplus to capture.
The first path was a mistake -- it looked modern, all those big machines, but was optimised for near-infinite land and very expensive labor. What poor countries typically had was the opposite: plenty of peasants and no room, and no diesel. So the winning strategy was actually closer to a million vegetable patches, with incentives, training, and transport to get this to the cities & export. An acre of vegetable patches can easily produce 100x the market value of an acre of wheat. Getting this right was a big part of how Taiwan & Korea for instance kick-started their growth. Getting it wrong was part of what killed the USSR -- if I remember right, they never even equalled the 1917 harvest.
From my notes:
* Soviet collectivization. Inspired by huge mechanized farms in the US. Vision of doing for farming what assembly lines did for manufacturing. Both Soviet and US attempts to do so failed badly. Party resorted instead to martial law and grain seizures, creating peasant uprisings. Forcibly relocated peasants into standardized, pre-planned mega-farms which were ruled by agricultural specialists. Ignored local conditions, vastly over-simplified and over-abstracted different areas of land and differently-skilled populations. Pressure from above to deny failures led to plans quickly losing contact with reality. Peasants gained most of their food by farming their own private plots in their little free time. Peasants effectively became indentured slaves, stripped of any cultural institutions that might be a focal point for rebellion, and naturally responded with terrible productivity. More deaths from starvation that WW1 and civil war combined.
* Compulsory villagization in Tanzania. Similar story. Government (with support of the Western world) wanted to modernize the peasantry. Forcibly relocated peasants to standardized, pre-planned villages. (Was supposed to be voluntary, but top-down pressure for results led to initiative-taking). Peasants were moved vast distances, rendering their deep local knowledge worthless. (Peasants don’t come in standardized, fungible units). Forced to apply Western farming techniques which failed badly in the local climate and ecology. (The peasant practices of dense polycropping turn out to be much more effective in climates with high primary productivity than monocropping and ridging as is common in the West). Authorities heard reports of atrocities but insisted they were isolated cases.
* And again in Ethiopia. Lead to widespread famine.
Some, like in Ethiopia, were closer to ethnic cleansing -- deliberately moving people (esp from Tigray IIRC) who were violently unhappy with the government, to less fertile places where they didn't understand how to farm, especially with new crops to boot. But by claiming this was a modernisation scheme was excellent PR, people like those, and the resulting famine was seen primarily as a great tragedy, and brought in lots of aid money.
For russia I also like Yegor Gaidar, there's a book but the summary is http://www.aei.org/feature/the-soviet-collapse/
What people did with the resulting free time was generally to make war on those nearby.
But there have been many societies which
- didn't engage in agriculture at all, or
- engaged in tropical horticulture, which is low-effort
And those societies (plains Indians / Australian aborigines / sub-Saharan Bantu (they're farmers! But they're not labor-intensive farmers) / central Asian Turks and Mongols / etc. etc. etc...) are characterized by near-constant warfare.
Not all societies are ancestral to yours. Most aren't.
And seriously, claiming that a society will engage in warfare by comparing it to an example that is as remote to it as possible in terms of technological development and culture (we do view warfare as negative, not all societies do and ours used to not do so) is not exactly convincing.
The reason, if I understand right, was that the limit on human population was set by disease not labor. In northern climates (where fewer of the diseases we evolved with thrive) instead the marginal farmer was on some stony hillside from which maximum effort could only just produce enough calories for winter.
I'm less sure whether such societies were involved in more warfare, it's possible (the men had time on their hands & soccer hadn't been invented...) but I don't know the data.
I also don't know how to extrapolate this to the future of our society.
> But the other sense is the amount of food you get per unit of land input. A society that maximizes this metric will produce more food and have a higher population than a society maximizing the first one.
Are you suggesting that the reason the US/Europe is not at the Malthusian limit / has a low population growth is because we don't grow enough food? You'll have to pardon my incredulity.
Your point is strictly true - we are growing less food than we theoretically could grow, but that seems beside the point: we still have an enormous surplus of food.
Population growth isn't being restricted by food availability. As to the other questions, I wouldn't want to argue causation in either direction. I'm pretty sure it goes in both.
If we started to reproduce at the level supported by our food production, we'd end up in the Malthusian equilibrium.
At earlier times, say 800 years ago, I think it can be argued that population densities in Europe were lower than in China because farming was optimized more for labor than for land -- plowing with horses is less work, but less food, per area, than planting rice by hand. But it's super-hard to figure out cause & effect obviously.
As someone who is grateful for computers, toilets, psychotherapy, punctual trains, and an efficient medical system... I am very grateful for our ability to produce food without high labor inputs.
I live close to both a rural hackerspace and a permaculture community. I am currently working on a suspended wirebot to help them automate the most tedious tasks. Pest removal, weeding, monitoring seem to be the low hanging fruits there.
You don't even need a robot for this. The city of Edmonton, Alberta has deployed a fleet of small weeding machines to curb pesticide use -- to wit, specially-trained weed-eating goats.
Goats are known for their ability to consume a wide variety of plants, especially weeds and shrubs that other animals won't touch. These goats have been specially trained to target noxious weeds and are constantly watched by humans and dogs.
This is the strategy JM Fortier employs in his gardening technique. In my retirement I plan on attempting to implement the market garden (a smaller version).
Really? You think a mechanical harvester cannot be built that could handle two types of plants at once? Forget deep learning and imaging technology. Plant alternating rows and build a harvester to accommodate, straddle, one while working the other. No fancy vision tech needed.
But, apparently, it would appear "not using neonicotinoids" is a lot harder than "designing & manufacturing millions & millions of tiny robot bees"
There are plenty of slow moving pests, weeds and the like as well.
I don't know enough to guess whether this is more energy 'efficient', given that we need glass or metal containers, in this case.
And laws could be drafted once it becomes known that these types of method are feasible.
I would be curious what ratio of producing vs protecting rows a farmer would need. Perhaps it’s less than alternating rows, not harming yield as drastically. Perhaps 1/4 or 1/5 would do.
Yeah I didn't mean big machines, don't laugh but I have wood+lego (small, simple blocks, cute) in mind when I think about automating farming with devices. Slightly larger, not toy size, but nothing like the usual farming scale utilities.
Hard to communicate this over text (especially since i'm only imagining). I'll draw some stuff one day.
From their crunchbase profile it says they've got 1.2 million pounds in funding, but need double that ++ to get started:
I encourage the idea; but I don’t think the manual tractor is going anywhere soon.
I don't want cheaper food, I want better food.
Say what you want about Big Ag, but the very fact that this is a reasonable position (and it is reasonable) is a tremendous testament to our progress as a species.
And there are more repayment models than per use, monthly and yearly.
I think robotic farming with less pesticide spray will be the future! There seem to be an ever increasing size increase of tractors. Many of these tractors runs proprietary software John Deere which makes them hard to self service. Robots can run from solar/bio energy generated locally at the farm.
I think there will be a movement of build your own open source robots at farms. Farmers are very inventive and good at making things!
As a farmer, as much as the techie in me would love nothing more, I struggle to see it. There is a pretty large chasm between hobbyist-level tools and industrial-level tools, and it is a stretch to, quite literally, bet the farm on the former. Proven tools with timely service and support are essential to getting the work done in time.
Robotics is already big in agriculture and has been for decades. As someone once said "technology is developed by military, adopted by agriculture, and then the rest of the world is finally exposed to it." If you can dream of a way to robotize agriculture, it is quite likely already commercially available. Any farmers who do happen to come up with a novel idea to improve agriculture will be undoubtedly looking at commercialization to raise the necessary capital to develop such a machine.
There is unquestionably a long history of farmers bringing innovations to the industry, and undoubtedly will continue to be, but they are not exactly projects that you slap together in your free time from open source materials. Those who have something to build put forth serious investment, and often requiring outside investment, to make them a reality.
That said, I could definitely see popularity among gardeners, where the scale is tiny and the practice is already a hobby.
What will be transformative is changes to the legal framework that will relieve human operators from overseeing the robots that do exist, without fear of legal repercussions should things go wrong (and they will; farm equipment breaks constantly given the harsh environment it has to operate in).
Use of lasers to kill unwanted plants instead of herbicides,
Planting symbiotic plants near each other,
Providing a interface "like farmville" but the actions are executed by robots, on a real farm
Given the large cost of repairs, can a swarm of robots compete on cost? If my one big robot breaks down, I fix it once and it's good to go. When my swarm of robots start to break down, I have to fix the same thing n number of times.
How about transport? Lots of farmers around here have farms which are 50+ miles apart. Right now they can hop into their one robot and drive it to the next farm. Does the swarm need to be loaded onto a trailer and trucked to the next farm? Autonomous on-road operation on country roads definitely isn't coming any time soon.
Don't get me wrong, the idea is neat. But it has to actually be better than the alternatives to see adoption.
Doing complex detailed work which could innovate the way farming is done ex:
1)not using chemicals, by killing weeds/bugs using robot/symbiotic approach
2)plant plants together (symbiotic plants, complementary vegetables: roots and plants)
3)using the land to plant more crops more densely
> Given the large cost of repairs, can a swarm of robots compete on cost? If my one big robot breaks down, I fix it once and it's good to go. When my swarm of robots start to break down, I have to fix the same thing n number of times.
I think cost will be an issue this swarms being much more expensive. However they won't break all at once ant you would always have a working fleet. Also the quality would be better, because the same unit would be used everywhere small scale and large scale.
>How about transport? Lots of farmers around here have farms which are 50+ miles apart. Right now they can hop into their one robot and drive it to the next farm. Does the swarm need to be loaded onto a trailer and trucked to the next farm? Autonomous on-road operation on country roads definitely isn't coming any time soon.
I think that this "startup" will have the logistics sorted by having a large area of land in one piece
>Don't get me wrong, the idea is neat. But it has to actually be better than the alternatives to see adoption.
Definitely. And that would require a very advanced robot. And maybe we already have the technology. But it would need enormous resources poured into it to make such an advanced product that offers all the benefits. And I don't know if the benefits are real/worth it.
...and what's stopping the same from happening to farming robots? In fact I'd say it's even easier, since there's no existing notion that they have to be easily serviceable, unlike tractors.
The next Red Hat could come along and get paid to implement and support it all.
If the robots are going to harvest the same amount of product, they are going to need at least similar amounts of power to today's machines. If they are airborne, and doing fancy AI things too, they will need far more power for every ton harvested. However it is harvested, by hand or by flying drone, the same weight of fruit has to make it from field to barn.
Not efficient. But they are good for checking on your plants.
And if you do have a big solarfield and a small wind turbine as well, you probably can power your own machines.
I see modernizing tractors as a 4 step process.
1: add automation to existing tractors. Mountable kit that would cost less than $10k
2: replace said tractor with electric variant that has the same platform. Target price $30k
3: provide a way to charge based on solar power (most automation worthy farm task need to be done on a sunny day anyways) Target price would probably be in the $20k range.
4: Build smaller more specialized tractor replacements like what’s shown here. Shooting for a sub $20k platform average.
Is that a typo that should be "sell" instead of "tell", or are they making a little joke about protecting self-aware robots from the knowledge that they are being prostituted out for money?
I think such a system would be easier to automate: cabling above a field, with an automated vehicle for spraying, harvesting, dealing with weeds.
If you see a steam-engine at a fairground or history society and it has a giant wheel under the boiler mounted horizontally, thats what its for: this kind of static engine work.
There were mobile threshers which used it too as a form of PTO using belts. The whole business was a convoy of about three trucks and associated labour. Steam trucks. Awesome!
I was hitchhiking in Yorkshire once back in the 1980s, on an "A" road (not a motorway) and a steam engine passed me by the other way. I was so tempted to cross the road and hitch a ride the wrong way...
If you really want to be a smartass you can say with one hundred percent truth that styrofoam and plastic are better for carbon long-term compared to paper and cardboard which break down over time and release it into the atmosphere. (Ignoring the relative accounting of the manufacturing processes themselves for now.)
At the moment modern agriculture is effectively making food out of oil.
I don't _like_ the proposed idea of farming as a service, but the fact is that I think it's one of the few ways we have to modernize small-scale farms in the less developed parts of the Western World.
...is a reasonable person, far as I can tell. Or is there an upper limit on desired efficiency?
Thanks. I reached the same conclusion in my response to another comment here. More efficient farming is good. What I foresee happening as a result may not be so good. You are right to suggest separating the issues.
It was great to see deep learning being applied to real problems, read about some of the initial issues like struggling to train a model to detect weeds, and see him build and develop his prototype over the last year.
Portable power plant ( PTO shaft is huge ), taking thousands of lbs of grain to the storage bin, and countless other tasks.
What attachments(front and back, PTO) are what make them useful. Their popularity is largely driven by the large variety of things you can do with them.
Our CUT(Compact Utility Tractor) does very little 'farming' at the moment. However all the other things it does(dirt work, leveling, moving 500lb hay bales, mowing/pasture upkeep) are why we have it around. When you look at the 3-point hitch, power take-off and SSQA just about anything you can do with dedicated equipment you can do with a CUT. The dedicated equipment may be faster but you only have to upkeep a single machine with a tractor.
He was 87 yrs old and still farming hard when I worked for him
That said, farm equipment still needs to be treated with a healthy amount of respect, being lax around any running machinery will easily get you killed.
I get the idea that that's a bit of a theme. Its a bit like how the root user always has the ability to run `rm -rf *`
The trend across the board seems to be: protect people from doing dangerous things without confirmation, because it's easier to protect them, than deal with complaints or fix the messes they make after the fact.
Imagine being able to change the world.
I mean I can kind of see the tech involved in this but actually putting into practice is probably going to be challenging due to the circumstances.
I have family on farms, and friends who work in larger scale farming, and have spent plenty of time at both. They're always happy to hear about things that could make their lives easier, but most of the big startups are coming at this completely wrong and offering expensive over-complicated "solutions" that don't solve anything the real farmers really care that much about.
The economics of farming are certainly tricky, but I think we can make it work. We may start out by operating our own farms.
If you're experienced in mechanical and electrical design and fabrication and want to help (in San Francisco), let me know (info at modularscience dot com).
They forgot to toss in figures for capital and return on investment, that would really seal the deal.
We'll see very small vehicles on the road that humans can't even fit into, supporting a huge automated economy. Not just for farming but for manufacturing too.