Team of Purdue, high school students automates planting in agBOT competition

An unmanned tractor designed by students at Purdue University and South Newton High School in Kentland, Indiana, placed second at the inaugural agBOT competition this spring.

The goal of the competition was to showcase innovative ways to create a machine that could plant seeds without a person physically driving it. Teams were tasked with the full design and implementation of the hardware, software, sensors, and the human-machine control interfaces. Once that was accomplished, they were challenged to plant and fertilize half-mile-long rows from an assigned set of GPS coordinates.

Advisors and students brought a variety of backgrounds to the team, including aviation, programming and electrical engineering.

“The students, both South Newton and Purdue, did really well,” said Denver Lopp, professor of aviation technology and one of the team’s advisors. “Of the five entries that made it to the final stages of the competition, only two completed the planting, including ours. We were the only ones who went completely through the field as well.”

The work for the projects took several months. After South Newton bought a tractor, the team had to figure out how to modify it with sensors and actuators to control the throttle, brake and clutch. As part the of process, they submitted a provisional application for a patent for the design of their starter unit.

On the day of the competition, they set up a command center for their team. It included several large screens that displayed a live feed from three on-tractor cameras, and sensors in the tractor mapped the progress of seed planting. There also was a simulated live and projected live weather system in place, which would update scheduled planting plans.

“This was a great way to create a partnership with a high school and help younger students apply their knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math in a tangible activity with results,” Lopp said.

Caleb Morgan, a graduate student in aviation and aerospace management, and professional flight major Connor Henebry were the Purdue students on the team. They were joined by South Newton seniors Lucas Clifford, Kurt Vissering and Alex Vitour. Advisors, in addition to Lopp, included Davin Huston, clinical assistant professor of engineering technology, and South Newton teachers Drake Babcock (agriculture) and Bob Hays (technology and engineering). The team was awarded $30,000.

Read coverage from the competition from Modern Farmer.

Read the New County Enterprise announcement of the second place finish.


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