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The Robot will tell You when to Water your Crops

Managing your crops can be frustrating. There is a constant need to maintain their nominal growth from time to time. In a small garden, this could be easy. But in the case of acres of land, it is a very frustrating process. 

One of the hardest processes in managing agriculture in determining water schedule. Watering your herbs can be a tedious process. You have to water them at the right times in the right amounts. There needs to be a balance and if the balance tilts one way or the other, the yield is gone. 

Fortunately, engineers are helping people know the right times to water your herbs. 

Irrigation Hassles

Photo by Tony Pham on Unsplash
Photo by Tony Pham on Unsplash

Before we look deeper into the actual story, let us understand a few basics about crop watering and its hassles. 

Irrigation is the process of supplying water to the fields through special channels. These channels supply a specific amount of water required by the plant at certain intervals of time. Different irrigation methods exist for different kinds of crop. Some of them are surface irrigation, micro-irrigation, drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation. 

One challenge faced by farmers is the time of watering. Water needs for plants vary by the type of plant, soil, area and climate. Growers should take all these factors into account for the watering level and the timing. For this, they involve a very tiresome process. Growers handpick leaves from plants and put them in a pressure chamber. They then apply air pressure to see when evaporation takes place. When water leaks, they calculate the amount the time for that particular plant. 

As you can see, this is a time-consuming process. Growers cannot access all parts of the field at the same time very often. This is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately. 

Fortunately, a group of engineers are finding a solution to this problem. 

Robots Tell you When to Water your Crops

The base robot for the new plant-moisture-measuring system researchers are developing will navigate rows of crops to reach individual leaves and stems. Credit: University of California - Riverside
The base robot for the new plant-moisture-measuring system researchers are developing will navigate rows of crops to reach individual leaves and stems. Credit: University of California – Riverside

A group of engineers just received a $1 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture through the National Science Foundation’s National Robotics Initiative. The grant is to develop a technology to address the challenges of watering crops. The engineers come from both UC Riverside and UC Merced.

The people representing Riverside are Assistant Professor Konstantinos Karydis and Professor Amit K. Roy-Chowdhury, both from Electrical and Computer Engineering. From Merced, it is a professor of computer science Stefano Carpin, and professor of environmental engineering Joshua Viers.

The effort is to develop a robotic pressure chamber that can sample leaves and test them on-site. This will provide the freshest data. The system will work in large fields to provide detailed analysis rather than a snapshot. There will be a more frequent updating of the data so that growers can optimize how they water their crops. It also reduces the time and effort by the crop specialists in detecting and analyzing specific watering times for crops. 

Carpin had already worked with UC Davis and Berkeley to develop RAPID. RAPID stands for Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation Delivery. This robot travels along with the crops and maintains the watering flow using sensor data. This way it knows exactly what each plant needs.

Watering Crops in the future

The proposed system should reach the prototype stage by 2021 and the complete stage by winter of 2022. They also plan to make the system open source after the completion of the design. 

“Using this process, growers could survey plants all day long, even in large fields.”- Prof. Stefano Carpin.

Read more on A robot that tells growers when to water crops is on the way.

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