‘Hexagrow’ Robot for Green House based Agriculture | Daily News


 

‘Hexagrow’ Robot for Green House based Agriculture

RESAERCH AT SLIIT

From deep sea-mining to space exploration, along the process, there exists at least one mechanical being and whose intervention is to accomplish a designated task automatically with speed and precision. We call them Robots. Robots are everywhere and we see them every day, maybe in the size of a housefly or maybe in size of a giant rocket. Advancements in the field of robotics have influenced other domains out there as well. Engineering, medical sciences, sports, geography, social sciences, agriculture, surveillance you name it.

The world population is now at about 7.8 billion and it is expected to reach a whopping number of 9 billion by 2050. With the rising population, the farmers around the world need to increase their food production to meet the demand. Finding a suitable space for farming and extra labor are the biggest challenges in meeting these demands.

Greenhouses are buildings that are made of translucent materials such as glass or thin plastic sheets and reinforced with metal or reinforced plastic cages that are designed for the protection of tender or out-of-season plants against excessive cold or heat in the environment. Basically, they can be used to create microclimates in their interiors that are suitable to the crops being planted inside and which can be protected from extreme weather conditions, pest attacks and other types of diseases lurking in the outdoor environment. These kinds of conditions help the plants to grow healthier and rapidly while producing more good quality harvest. Instead of terraforming large landmasses to make them suitable for plants, we can use greenhouses as a solution to the farming land problem. As a solution to lack of human labor, these greenhouses can be automated.

In greenhouse automation, the autonomous system has to monitor the state of the environmental parameters inside the greenhouse like temperature, relative humidity, soil pH, soil moisture and light intensity. Then depending on the drift of current environmental conditions from the most suitable level for the crop planted inside, it will have to manipulate sprinklers, exhaust fans, shades or irrigation system to adjust the climate condition favorable for plants.

In the above mentioned automation process, the creators encounter typical problems. The biggest problem is the cost of the sensor array. In order to build a sensor network spreading across the greenhouse which is capable of monitoring multiple environmental factors, several sensors from the same type would be needed and this is going to increase the cost of the final sensor array. The next problem is the sensor contamination. For example, if a water droplet is formed near the humidity sensor due to sprinkler system, it will give you a false reading of the atmospheric humidity. The next problem is no matter how hard we try to save the plants from the diseases, still there is the risk of plants getting infected from foreign contaminants that came inside. Maybe from the dirty hands, contaminated clothing of the farmer or simply coming from the greenhouse door left open for a few minutes. If there is an infected plant, that plant has to be taken out from the greenhouse as soon as possible to avoid other plants getting affected too. To do so the infected plant has to be identified as soon as possible.Dr.Pradeep Abeygunawardhana and his team in Computer Systems Engineering department at SLIIT Malabe campus trying to overcome the above stated problems. The team has come up with a robot equipped with sensors that are required to monitor environmental conditions mentioned above and capable of autonomously navigating inside the greenhouse while collecting environmental data. Using a camera mounted on the robot, it is capable of detecting diseases like Cercospora, Southern blight and Bacterial blight which are common diseases among eggplants.

The main control board of the robot is a RaspberryPi development board and along with it a NodeMCU is there which facilitates WiFi communication between the robot and a web dashboard. This architecture facilitates the owner to monitor the condition of the greenhouse remotely. The RaspberryPi is connected with another RaspberryPi which acts as the control board of the greenhouse actuators. This facilitates the control board of the greenhouse to manipulate the actuators in the greenhouse to adjust the climate inside the greenhouse according to the readings from the mobile robot.

The control board of the robot is running on Raspbian OS and on top of it a framework called Robot Operating System is working which fuses all the sensors and actuators and control functions of the robot.


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