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A robot to replace the need for farmers to go inside the grain bin (agweb.com)
183 points by ryansouza 6 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 128 comments

About 30 people a year are entrapped in grain bins. About half die. Generally, someone goes inside a grain bin only because something has gone wrong. Which is when it's most dangerous.

[1] https://agfax.com/2019/02/18/grain-bins-sudden-death-4-ways-...

This sounds like typical heavy industry stuff, but I guess a lot of the normal practices of heavy industry aren't as common in the ag sector.

Right. In industry, you'd need a confined space permit, lockout/tagout of any related machinery, a fall protection rig, and an outside watcher to go inside a grain silo. Standard industrial safety.

Farms with 10 employees or less are mostly exempt from OSHA regulations, by an act of Congress demanded by the agriculture industry.

[1] https://www.osha.gov/grain-handling

[2] https://www.agriculture.com/news/business/osha-clarifies-sma...

That’s an interesting statistic. Is there data anywhere that has a consolidated list of counts of accidental death by injury. That would be a great place to look for startup ideas.

I'm kind of fascinated by how many comments in here are of the "Gee, why use something so complicated? Why not just tie on a rope if you go in the silo?" variety.

The inability to imagine that people who aren't tech bros can and actually do sensible things to address problems they encounter--and that some of their problems might still be harder to solve than coding a signup form--is impressive.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

H. L. Mencken, who probably died without seeing a computer (1956)

Tech people and farmers aren't separate species.

Almost everybody used to farm, and largely over the course of the 20th century, people quit farming and started getting college educations and learned to use computers.

That's literally my family history. My mom really didn't want to work on the family farm as a teenager, so she studied hard and got a scholarship, and a math degree, and ended up a programmer because women weren't allowed to be engineers.

It's such a waste of effort when people go on the attack against stereotypes, regardless if the stereotypes are socially acceptable. Why not address real people, with real experience of your own? You want to say something about "sensible" farmers you have known, or hard problems?

1. Not many comments are like that.

2. Many (most?) users here do more complex programming work than just signup forms.

3. Not everyone has the privilege of being familiar with both ag and programming. Plus, there are a lot of young users here. Today, a few people are learning more about silo safety. What’s impressive about that?

I think your exemplifying my point with your third objection is impressive. You're not even recognizing a general principle, but instead responding hey, not everyone knows agriculture can be dangerous or complicated!.

That's basically the pure form of what I'm talking about--the beliefs about many programmers that 1) they are smart, 2) their work is uniquely difficult among all other work, 3) any other work is obvious and simple, and working from those beliefs, 4) that if other people have problems with their work, they must just be too stupid to do the first few things that pop into programmers' heads.

Programmers inherently know that doing anything requires a lot of detailed knowledge, because working out how to express it explicitly is their job.

But decent programmers get a lot of reinforcement of the idea that they are entitled to be spoon fed with the details of whatever needs to be worked on. They get treated as machines that can be pointed at any problem in any domain.

I know intuitively why this attitude of entitlement bothers people, but I don't have the right words at the moment.

I am disagreeing with the general principle. Sorry, I meant to make that clear. I recognize what you’re saying but it’s wrong. I also objected to the dismissal of valid domain expertise in those who perhaps are too specialized in their knowledge.

There is no amount of domain expertise that justifies thinking other domains require no expertise.

Effectively no one here thinks that. Asking a question is not the same as thinking that.

> Today, a few people are learning more about silo safety. What’s impressive about that?

What’s not impressive?

I’m always a little amazed, in a good way, how willing people are willing to repeatedly educate others, if that’s what you mean.

If you mean everyone should have read articles about ag safety or experienced it through work or family connections, to the point they’re to be blamed if not, I don’t agree. I’m fortunate enough to have been thoroughly exposed to farming growing up, and it sounds like you were too. Sadly, most people don’t get to have that experience due to population distribution in most industrialized countries, and their formal education and learning for fun may have gone in different directions. Field trips, field internships, WWOOF, 4H, etc. help and it’s important to support those efforts. In the meantime, I find it completely normal that some people learn about silo safety when a silo safety article is posted.

What’s amazing is that people all over he world are learning about industrial scale grain silo safety issues - despite many never having seen one even in passing.

The internet makes connections and disseminates information like nothing in history, and that’s amazing

Friendly reminder that people who deal with "unsafe by office worker standards" stuff day in and day out do not shovel money at you without critical thought just because you can portray your product as improving safety. These guys aren't wringing their hands and clutching their pearls over the thought of a dangerous job. They're finding a way to be careful and mitigate the risks of the worst outcomes and then getting the job done. To them it's no different than trying not to land on your ass trying to pin an implement to the tractor in the mud. Going into a silo or grain hopper is not a dangerous task to them. It's just a task and like any other task you should approach it in a smart manner if you want the best results. Selling something as a safety improvement isn't that easy because the physics involved in bulk materials or heavy equipment are always going to hurt people who don't work smart given enough exposure and likewise the ROI of removing any one type of exposure is low.

Now, if the machine can all but eliminate the need for the manual job they might sell a few. Because farmers love when shit just magically works because the day only has so many hours in it and one less someone has to stop what you're doing to deal with.

On a more technical note, bulk dry goods can generally be persuaded to follow gravity if you give them a kick start with vibration. This approach has a bunch of pluses (the equipment is very reliable and typically you can resolve blockage by varying the frequency) but I don't know why it isn't used for grain (though it is used on the trucks and rail cars that transport grain). You typically see it in bulk material handling settings where you can't afford to stop the line and/or it's too dangerous to make someone clear a blockage manually so I assume it's a cost thing and farming margins aren't big enough. It seems like these guys went and invented a robot that solves a problem that has an existing solution. But the article doesn't mention why the existing solution doesn't get used for grain and why the new robot will. I get that it's a high level press release but I still wanna know.

Speaking as someone who knows farmers- they do, in fact, consider going into the silo a dangerous task, because everyone knows some family that had someone die because of it. They do it anyway, because it needs to get done, but they are quite aware of the risk. Everything on a farm has to earn its keep in terms of ROI, and so will this robot. It may or may not be cost effective, and we'll see. But please don't downplay the very real danger, just because some folks have to manage it because of their job.

"Blue-collar" worker here. safety is the first trade we learn in school and the first job we start at every site. Your real uphill battle with this thing isnt going to be safety, its repair. Can I fix it with a stick welder and parts from a Tractor Supply? If not, its just another John Deere money machine.

If you REALLY want farmers to use it, make it OPEN SOURCE.

Doesn't have to be open source, just needs to be repairable on site, not in a week's time when someone comes out to it. In that time someone has to risk their life to do the job it should be doing.

Clearly not true. The safest thing you can do on a worksite is leave. But people still work there.

It sure seems that way, across all the youtube farming channels I watch, one thing that ties them together is they do not like going into the silo and do consider it unsafe. I have no idea what OP is talking about besides their imagination.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7oxLIP1RRo here's a whole episode about grain bin rescue training. They raised $60,000 for first responders in their grain bin safety campaign.

The entire idea that "x workers don't care about safety" is just dumb.

Yes some individuals care less than they should. But every job has some people who are smart enough to value their own safety. And those people will seriously consider any device the significantly increases safety.

Humans (not any specific type of worker) are bad about risk versus convenience trade offs. They really like dangerous shortcuts as an example. Like, people who are on the clock, and they see there's a safe route to the work site, but if you cut down this steep embankment it's slightly quicker, although you might fall to your death... Humans will take that shortcut. Even though they're on the clock! They are risking death to save somebody else money, where is the sense in that? But that's not why they're doing it, they're doing it because it seems convenient. So we have to arrange things to make unsafe practices also inconvenient and then humans stop doing them. Put a fence along that steep drop, now you'd have to climb a fence and it's no longer a shortcut, so they use the safe route.

>Humans (not any specific type of worker) are bad about risk versus convenience trade offs.

This is just a fancy way of calling people stupid because they don't do what you want.

Literally every subject you can think of is inundated with people complaining that the common man doesn't care enough or isn't doing it right.

"nice boat you've got there"

-no financial planner ever

> This is just a fancy way of calling people stupid because they don't do what you want.

Not people, humans, I'm sure some non-humans can get this right.

And it's not that they don't do what I want, they don't do what they want.

It is not only that, awareness plays crucial role in safety, there are numerous factors that negatively effects awareness, some factors might not be related to job at all, it might be "simple" commutative cognitive fatigue. Arguably, this issue is irrespective of training quality and/or understanding of job risks (smart), to large degree.

>Yes some individuals care less than they should.

Is it really an amount of "care", or that some people just have an ability to not get bogged down by the scary stuff. There would be no X-Games at all if we were all wired the same. There are people that voluntarilly get off of their motorcycle at the apex of their jump to score some extra points. That's beyond insane to me, but to them it's part of the job.

Maybe I'm just a dirty socialist, but I don't really want to die in a preventable industrial accident, all because my employer didn't want to invest in workplace health and safety.

The alternatives suggested on [1] (from a different comment) are much cheaper: long poles, a safety harness, lock tag.

If farmers aren't already using those, why would they buy this?

[1] https://agfax.com/2019/02/18/grain-bins-sudden-death-4-ways-...

> Consequences. Of the 22,215 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2019, 47% were not wearing seat belts.

And I highly doubt half of those people were driving old cars with no seat belts.

If people can’t be arsed to use a simple safety tool it’s going to be a hard sell to build a robot.

Better would be to build a silo that has safety features built in and make it competitive on price.

It looks more fun to use.

"To them it's no different than trying not to land on your ass trying to pin an implement to the tractor in the mud. Going into a silo or grain hopper is not a dangerous task to them."

I have been on HN since 2012 and this comment is the dumbest shit I have ever seen posted here. By a fair margin.

If you climb into an enclosed space with both burial and dust explosion hazards and your internal alarms aren't going off loud and strong ... you are, sadly, an idiot.

Most of the people I know who handle tasks like this are not idiots.

Um yeah, because when I was a kid my grandfather let us ride in the grain collection cart. That was basically a large hopper on wheels with a funnel shape on the bottom to feed the grain elevator in the barn. We rode out to the fields. When the harvesters were full they'd come and "pour" a load into the wagon with kids in it. Buried my brothers from the waist down IIRC. Fun stuff. Safe and smart thing to let kids do? Nope.

There are a lot of people with lower standards for safety like the PP indicated. They're not all wrong.

> I have been on HN since 2012 and this comment is the dumbest shit I have ever seen posted here. By a fair margin.

Since you've been in HN so long, it may have been a while since you last had a chance to look at the guidelines. Here's a quick friendly reminder:

"When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. "That is idiotic; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3" can be shortened to "1 + 1 is 2, not 3."

Be kind. Don't be snarky. Have curious conversation; don't cross-examine. Please don't fulminate. Please don't sneer, including at the rest of the community.

Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."

Thank you for contributing to this community.

Source: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Come on man, you don't need to be this rude about a disagreement. You didn't even attempt to contest the primary claim, that farmers aren't going to flock like lemmings to a product that sells safety as its primary benefit.

'Dangerous' is contextual...if the risks of a task can be mitigated with some basic safety process, is it still dangerous? Getting into a grain bin is like rock climbing...go commando and you're playing with death, go in with the right process and gear and you'll be fine. Is it still 'dangerous' then?

"'Dangerous' is contextual...if the risks of a task can be mitigated with some basic safety process, is it still dangerous? Getting into a grain bin is like rock climbing...go commando and you're playing with death, go in with the right process and gear and you'll be fine. Is it still 'dangerous' then?"

I think this is a flawed analogy.

Although I don't do much rock climbing, I do take part in some other high consequence recreational activities. I agree that some of these risks can be mitigated with equipment and safety measures and, in fact, I don't feel like I'm courting death.

The difference here is that these are activities I have tens of thousands of reps of. Further, I am regularly practicing these activities in totally safe environments. Finally, I have mental models of thousands of different routes and locations and conditions and settings upon which to draw.

Contrast this with (for instance) entering in, and working on, a grain silo. You will not have had thousands of reps of this activity. You will not have entered thousands of different grain silos. You will not have trained for decades in practice grain silos. This is a very high consequence activity that you will have very shallow mental maps of.

I think that's an important distinction.

It suggests that regardless of equipment and processes, one should enter into (high consequence activities one has shallow mental maps of) on very high alert.

Instead of using the word "idiot", I think it's probably better to describe people who refused to give up small scale farming over the course of the 20th century as...very stubborn, used to doing everything themselves to save money and ignoring risks (to themselves and family) that a big employer can't possibly get away with today.

If you've ever read "Farmer Boy" about Almanzo Wilder, there's a bit where his father is telling him, he can go and live in the city, apprentice to someone and make a good living, but be dependent on other people, or he can be a farmer, take more risks with the weather and everything else, but be independent.

"Instead of using the word "idiot", I think it's probably better to describe people ..."

Please re-read - I said:

"Most of the people I know who handle tasks like this are not idiots."

I was disputing my parents assertion that "... (things like this are) not a dangerous task to them." I think my parent is incorrect.

It's very common for (family) farmers to die in accidents like the article hints at. Not specifically related to grain bins, but in general due to working with hazardous equipment and chemicals and having no regard for labor and safety laws.

So, even if you didn't mean to, I think you called a lot of people idiots.

I was just trying to reframe it as, people who work for themselves rather than a corporation tend to take a lot more risk and settle for a lot less pay.

So if you know people like that, you'd know about the consequent misfortunes.

I'm not trying to be critical, really, what it comes down to is that if "most of the people [you] know" wouldn't take the risks that I associate with farmers, then it makes me wonder what sort of people they are. What context you are coming from.

My grandfather was a farmer. I don't know the details, but he died after a mishap cleaning something with gasoline. Not immediately. I read a news item once where a farmer was overcome by something with toxic fumes, and the whole family died in succession, each one going in to rescue the other. There was another about someone who got their arms ripped off while working alone and managed to get help.

I agree. The first paragraph of the article contains their reasoning behind creating it. An experienced farmer asked them to create something so that he (and his children) never had to expose themselves to that risk again. They know it is dangerous, they may manage that risk but you are a fool if you think they would prefer to run the risk rather than find a safer alternative.

There is a post on the front page of reddit[0] today about the risks of grain entrapment, and that thread is also full of people with firsthand experiences of friends or relatives dying on farms from it.


Interesting timing.

This thread is a hilarious game of "I'm better than you because I know real farmers". For some reason, certain occupations seem to bring out a sanctimonious attitude in people that nobody can understand it if they're not personally doing it themselves, combined with a failure to recognize that those occupationists are diverse and one person's personal friends might feel differently from another group or even the majority.

I must say, I find this response a bit odd. Just for reference, a billionaire US presidential candidate last year said[0]:

> I could teach anybody—even people in this room so no offense intended—to be a farmer. It's a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn.

I've seen this kind of attitude toward lower-status occupations from fellow engineers and other educated professional types, and I find it distasteful. Unlike some other occupations which also provoke a "sanctimonious attitude" (such as, say, education, despite almost all of us having extensive experience with it as a consumer or product or something), farming seems like a blind spot for almost all educated professionals. I know I'm profoundly ignorant of how all of the different types of food I eat are produced. Everything I learn about the field - and I'm not naturally interested in it - makes me feel even more uninformed about all of the factors that go into producing and distributing food. That indicates to me that farmers, whom we depend on, absolutely deserve some respect and deference. When a common sentiment among this class is that farming can be reduced to simply putting some dirt over a hole with a seed inside, knowing an actual farmer is probably pretty valuable, even if that farmer isn't representative of farmers as a whole. Farming seems to be one of the few occupations where this "sanctimonious attitude" seems justifiable.


It's not "I know..." It's "you are making stupid assumptions" and you haven't read the article.

They’re already running the risk vs other safer alternatives - even if just smaller silos.

Sure if you give it away for free they’ll be there - but if you’re trying to sell it you need to convince them (or more likely get it illegal to not use one).

It's one thing to take your safety into your own hands when it's your backyard. It's another thing to decline to implement procedures and safety measures that put someone else's life at risk.

The romantic notion of the old man and his sons wringing out an existence on the family 40 is rapidly disappearing. Most of the grain production in the US is from massive farming corporations with tens of thousands of acres. At that kind of farm, there's a company mission statement that you hope has "Safety First" somewhere. There's someone in an office looking at hazards their workers encounter and ensuring they're OSHA-compliant, and doing risk analyses to find the most effective way to reduce risk and maintain productivity. A few miles away, there's a farm hand considering climbing into the company grain bin not because he'll personally benefit from shipping a harvest, he's at a $10.25 hourly rate regardless of the content of the bin, but he needs this paycheck to avoid his house being foreclosed upon and there are no non-farming jobs within 40 miles.

It's the office worker who is responsible for dozens of grain bins, each containing a quarter million dollars worth of grain, who is deciding whether to risk someone else's life or buy equipment instead.

I'm not in farming (though I have family who is), I'm in manufacturing automation, and the same safety guidelines apply. The risks I'm willing to take with my Sawzall in my backyard are not the same as what I can ask some minimum-wage line operator to stand in front of. That person doesn't really have a choice in the risks they're exposed to. I get to choose those risks, and I have a moral, ethical, and legal responsibility to minimize them. If there's a maintenance task that puts workers in a potentially dangerous area of the workcell, I'm not sending them in unprepared. I'm probably going to spend thousands on floor scanners, safety controllers, lockout/tagout energy shutoffs, and other risk mitigations to make it as safe as reasonably possible, and if I can skip those requirements and have a machine do the task instead that's an easy calculation to make.

Most farms are not large corporate. It is one guy and the hired hand farming 3000 acres. Legally they are corporations, but it is still small

You're technically correct, the most common farm is small, but the large farms are so much larger that the average acre is on a large farm. Not sure I explained that clearly - it's similar to how if there was a group of people consisting of 99 minimum wage workers and a billionaire, the average person is poor, but the average dollar is held by the billionaire. Accidents are more closely correlated per bushel, not per farm.

Not an expert on grain but in general vibration will aerosolize particles (preferentially the smallest ones) and it's amazing what will burn when you aerosolize it as a fine powder.

A Wikipedia article on the subject: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_explosion

Anything even mildly combustible can make a pretty big fireball.

Powdered coffee creamer makes impressive fireballs with the distinctive mushroom cloud shape.

Ah so it does - video: https://youtu.be/9pP7mTgX7iw?t=35

That's mostly due to the physics of how it's being aerosolized.

We used to take individual serving packets and do giant flame spikes. We got a large can of it and did the same thing from the top of a stairwell with someone on the bottom floor with a lighter and someone up top with the creamer.

We hadn't fully considered the ramifications of our actions until we saw the fireball coming up at us.

But basically, even without the fire, it would have made the mushroom cloud.

Growing up around silos, I can tell you... of all the dangerous stuff on a farm, that was the one thing that folks warned about. They are death traps, particularly because it’s so damn tempting to climb up and get in. (As a kid, anyway.) Or, even as an adult, when you’re emptying it, it’s so tempting to step inside (on the bottom) and shovel that last big mound on the side down towards the center. (And, then get overwhelmed in an avalanche if the big stable mound isn’t as stable as you think.)

I don’t think vibrating would work. Some silos are several stories tall, and the grain isn’t rigid... in fact, it can be quite moist. Point being, vibrations won’t travel very far.

I've seen lots of people calling OPs statement stupid, but nobody actually countering the primary claim in the very first sentence.

The likelihood that your rank and file farmer is going to drop $5K on this thing when they know in the back of their mind that every time it fails they are going to have to get back into the grain bin anyway, is very very low.

I've been involved in several IT projects and companies in the agricultural industry over the years. Most people that try to solve agricultural problems with tech are surprised to find that there is far less money in agriculture than they expected and farmers are far less willing to part with it on unproven tech.

There is money in agriculture, but it's not the same sort of money that tech people are used to. Big tech thrives on dumb money - people are willing to make bets on unproven tech in the hopes that it will either make their lives easier or make them look like they are "innovating" to their customers or their bosses.

the medium-scale farms (~10-20 permanent staff + labourers) i have experience with will have no problem making 6-figure purchases if they can do the math and see that the capital investment will pay off in a reasonable amount of time. the money is there, it's just not gambled. there's no value for a farmer in the appearance of innovation.

Your first two sentences are pretty unfriendly. I'm not trying to be snide.

I don't think so - I got burned precisely by this -> people that work with danger regularly are actually used to it and do not faint or fall to you lap if you offer some marginal mitigation

Sometimea even to their own detriment

A solution that removes some minor but commonly encountered inconvenience is an easier sell than one that removes a rare but fatal one.

So a setup that keeps the steering wheel cool even in the hot sun may sell better than a device that prevents the tractor from flipping over on you.

I feel that hackernews readers need the blunt reminder once in a while.


On the internet it's very easy for people to talk themselves into incredibly high standards for anything. But in real life most people are pretty astute at marginal trade-offs between risk and cost.

While it may look like you have a product with no competitors that will save lives, your actual competitor is "being slightly more careful" and it's free and people still aren't buying that. You still have to justify the value.

Being slightly more careful doesn't really help in this situation. They are slightly more careful. The smart ones are very careful. It's intrinsically dangerous. Someone suggested a tag out system and that just makes it clear to me they don't understand the mechanics at hand. Why more of them don't wear a harness, tie off, and the buddy system, I don't know, but that's about the only real way you can recover if you get sucked in.

Being slightly more careful just is using the harness, etc. they don’t do it because it takes time and they’ve done this before and it’ll be fine this time.

It also takes 2 guys and a complete halt of the process. If you could just drop something in there that would do the job, that may actually save money over the long run. Especially if you could keep dispensing while it's working.

If anyone is wondering why it takes two, part of it is suspension trauma: https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2017/01/01/Suspension-Trauma....

Probably coincidence but I've noticed a ton of grain articles lately, here's a trending on on reddit from today:


Ya I read PG's article on getting a publicist recently. Now I wnat to know who is this company's publicist.

I noticed that too! Collision?

This seems like another high tech solution looking for a problem. I'm not heavy agriculture savy but it seems to me the same could be solved by having 2 or 3 archimedes screws on the bin which could keep grain moving over time and preventing it from forming the clods.

The bot could also be radio controlled and it would still remove the need of a human going in.

Another pet peeve of mine is the robot-as-a-service part - can't we just buy stuff and keep it anymore?

Considering an auger is already an archimedes screw and it still doesn't stop pockets from forming I don't know if adding more of them would help.

> The bot could also be radio controlled and it would still remove the need of a human going in.

Yes. And it is radio controlled. To quote the article: "The Grain Weevil is a remote controlled specialized robot [...]" They also plan to make it autonomous but it is not yet.

It's more an issue of either having an uneven depth after loading the bin, especially if the farmers are storing it all winter to sell the next summer. To do this you need to closely monitor the temperature and use the ventilation fans to bring the grain down in temp gradually to prevent spoiling. In order for that ventilation fans to do their job well the grain has to be a consistent depth.

Virtually all systems will produce uneven depth as the bins are loaded. You usually either end up with an upward cone in the middle from the pile, or an inverted cone when you're using a bin spreader to distribute the grain around the bin. The other time you can have an issue is if you have a powered spreader and forget to turn it on and load the bin unevenly on one side, which could end up being a structural issue.

I agree robot as a service is annoying. It is a good fit though for robotics because your first version is likely to cost too much and break too soon. Selling that would make for unhappy customers. However investors like the high profit potential and that can lead to dark patterns.

Yep, that was my first thought as an outsider and of course it's already used in those bins, it's more heavy-duty, faster, probably more expensive to install but more effective than a small robot.



They still have to get inside sometimes (less than without them) to fix it but it's the same with the robot if it's get stuck or battery dies.

The first video perfectly illustrates how the majority of grain bins in Northern California are configured, mostly for storing rice and wheat. I grew up on our family farm and we have several grain bins. They contain a row of augers at the top, with the row width being the radius of the grain bin. The augers almost reach the floor and spin to "stir" the grain, and the entire row slowly rotates around the top. We called them "stirs" [sic] and they were installed 35 and 45 years ago, so it's definitely not a new concept. Very simple and very effective. Grain bins there also have large fans and heaters at the base, which we just called "dryers". Between the stirs and the dryers our area didn't have any suffocation or explosion incidents that I remember, but we knew those were risks and we were careful if we had to go inside full grain bins. It seems like more of an issue in the Midwest with corn and soybeans, and taller silos.

I think it’s as a service because it’s not needed often and only in situations where something goes wrong. The cost benefit may not work if you had to buy the thing.

Just be grateful they didn't promote it as being for search and rescue like every robot-solution-looking-for-a-problem that gets invented by academics.

Whomever manages to sell a product called "Grain Weevil" to farmers must be unfathomably brilliant.

I would be kind of interested to know how many times the farmers need to go into the grain bin to rescue the robot.

Agriculture is an area still ripe for technological innovation. It looks less and less like it did a generation ago, but there are still many dangerous tasks, like this one, involved and, I believe, many that could be made much more efficient.

I love to see projects like this making a difference for people doing critical, and often dangerous, blue collar work.

The problem is that the "easy" stuff was assisted if not automated a while ago, the stuff that's always the same and pretty much just requires mechanical muscle.

What's left over tends to be either controlling the stuff, dealing with failures, or work which has enough variance that it's really hard to automate reliably and perfectly.

Just saw an article on Reddit in how dangerous this is. Back in college I was being asked to develop a project to a rice factory, so I went there several times. In one occasion a worker fell in one of those grain bin and died a slowly death. Scary as heck.

Crazy that this work has been done by hand. I always assumed there would be an augur or something inside.

Made me laugh. An augur is a person who inteprets the will of the gods, which would certainly have applications, even inside a grain silo!

But an auger would be more directly useful to the problem at hand.

Apologies for the pedantry!

There are augurs inside, but the grain doesn't always cooperate. Sometimes it clumps up or the augur creates a void, in which case a person has to go in and break up the clumps.

And FWIW the word is auger, which I misspelled.

There are definitely automation tools (augers, aerators, …) but they tend to be pretty fixed and inflexible, and sometimes there's an issue with them, and you need one of each system you want / need for each bin.

A farmer I knew had run the numbers on the cycle time for unloading grain wagons at harvest time; paying neighborhood kids $3/hr (in 1982 or so) to dance on top of the grain as it drained paid off. There were bars to grab on the top of the wagons so it wasn't deeply dangerous, but it certainly got exciting.

His kids were the ones driving the wagon trains from the fields to the silos. That was even more exciting. No insurance, just "if you break it you have to help fix it"

i use to help my uncle bale hay. I would drive the truck and pull the trailer in the pasture while he and my cousin loaded the bales. I was around 9 or 10 and it was the coolest thing i had ever done ( at the time ) hah.

Here is a negative two cents idea: Attach a dumb auger drive "robot" to the end of tether adjustable from the top, with an umbilical to solar panels, maybe a lidar or sonar to see the shape of the field, make it go in spiral back and forth Roomba style. Eventually you'll have run all over the grain multiple times. No need for fancy deep learning AI.

If you don't have to make it as fast as possible in a pay per time used way, maybe the dumb solution can be cost effective.

> The Grain Weevil powered by JLI Robotics is a mobile robot that scurries across the top of the grain inside of a storage bin performing tasks that no human should ever do.

This felt like a particularly strong wording. Is it due to risk of drowning in grain? Or just an annoying task?

Adding to the Hacker News Impromptu Grain Bin Education Hour, a Smarter Every Day video about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywBV6M7VOFU

> Last year, nationwide there were 38 grain entrapment cases with 23 of those leading to fatalities


Obviously these are low numbers compared to general population, but as a share of people who would actually enter a grain bin in the first place I would guess its high enough to matter.

In 2019, 67 incidents of grain entrapment took place, of which 39 were fatal.


> “After hearing some farmers talk about how they've lost a loved ones or how they themselves have gotten injured, I got really passionate about the project,” Zents says.

Why did they decide to name it after a horribly destructive pest that plagues owners of grain silos?

Would the Roomba have been as successful if it was named the iCockroach?

The Beatles did alright!

People like some beetles. Weevils are always bad.

This article gives a good overview of the danger:


Grain silos are really freaking dangerous just like a lot of activities on farms.

Met a couple a few years ago who’d recently lost their teenaged son tamping down a corn bin; still have nightmares about the details. This will be wonderful if it’s accessible to all farmers.

In Argentina, silos have been mostly replaced by silo bags with grain inside. Like this one: https://agroverdad.com.ar/2019/04/como-lograr-en-8-pasos-un-...

Grain bins and silos aren't the same thing https://ilfbpartners.com/farm/the-difference-between-grain-b...

Once we can make bread with nothing but sunlight and robots humanity will be so much closer to being free from work.

If bread was all I needed, I'd already be able to meet my needs with 30 minutes of work a week.

If grain bins are dangerous to go inside, maybe there's a low tech solution like safety lines attached to a belt similar to mountain climbing or high rise construction.

Safety lines in this context help retrieve the corpse.

It'd need to be able to pull you out somehow - the danger here is being entrapped and squeezed in the grain, not a fall.

Actually falling is an issue with bridged grain. Even among people who will get in bins, it's widely accepted that you never go into flowing grain.

I assume weight is a part of what entraps someone. What if you used bungee cords to reduce your weight? Or had a rip cord you could pull that would yank you out.

Then you have to gear up, which takes time, and maybe you only have to go in for a little bit to clear something, and also now you are tethered which may hinder your mobility and could in itself become a hazard. I recall something I read about people who work in high places like antenna towers would often rather do away with the harness if safety regulations allowed as they find it tedious to be unhooking and rehooking every few steps up the ladder.

> I recall something I read about people who work in high places like antenna towers would often rather do away with the harness if safety regulations allowed as they find it tedious to be unhooking and rehooking every few steps up the ladder.

As a rock climber I find this comment absurd if true. Unless the number is extremely small.

I also find rigging a multi-pitch anchor and keeping ropes untangled tedious. But guess what: that keeps me alive! Sure there are some who climb without ropes, but that's an extremely small number of people.

You're climbing on tricky terrain for the fun and challenge of it. They are climbing a large ladder because there isn't an elevator. My brother used to climb poles for his job (may still from time to time). He wouldn't strap his belt round the pole until he got to the top and needed to free up his hands.

Life is full of absurdities apparently: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uO6YiImtMXM

... that is impressively hostile design. I would think the ladders would be have a cable alongside so a climber could attach a hitch or a ratchet wheel or something that wouldn't need to be re-hooked every rung but would still brake in the event of fall.

Why don’t they just basically lead climb their way up? Seems like it’d be a decent compromise.

Yes, using a harness is standard (recommended) practice, along with someone to pull the other end

Can you make a big one I can drive around some sand dunes?

That was awesome! Who the hell is this guy and why is he wearing a shirt and tie driving a screw-tank?!

A Youtube celebrity for the 12-year-old-boy and 12-year-old-boy-at-heart market.

Yes, this is basically a mini "screw-propelled vehicle"

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