A Taiwanese university research team successfully developed a lightweight, affordable agricultural drilling robot, capable of navigating around obstacles in the field and drilling between preset distance without human supervision, meeting head-on the growing challenges of aging population in Asian countryside.
Once the digging routes and locations are inputed, this automated field driller is able to automatically drill holes at equal spacing and proper depth—as deep as 50 centimeters within 30 seconds. It can drill 20 holes and walk more than 300 meters long at a time, with a battery life of 3 hours. On a field of 1,000 square meters (0.1 hectare), it can help famers plant about 225 banana trees, saving much physical labor and time along the way.
Combining new designs on mechatronic interface circuit, laser sensor positioning and signal processing systems, this robotic driller is the fruit of more than two years of research of the Intelligent System and Signal Processing Laboratory (ISASP Lab) team, led by Dr. Chung-Liang Chang, an Associate Professor of Department of Biomechatronics Engineering, National Pingtung University of Science and Technology (NPUST). According to Dr. Chang, the driller’s functions can also be expanded to other agricultural needs, such as water sprinkling, fertilizing, and even produces carrying, by simply changing the modules on the machine.
With a modest cost of NT$30,000 (roughly US$1,000), this easy-to-use automated driller was initially designed to assist local banana farmers in planting time, but can also easily suit the small-scale farming needs in Taiwan and other countries in Southeast Asia, since currently most agricultural drillers imported from abroad are too expensive for small farmers to afford (each machine NT$ 1 million and up) while too cumbersome to maneuver within crowded plantations.
According to Dr. Chang-Hsien Tai, the President of NPUST, patents have been obtained for this drilling robot, and test planting projects are already on the way in collaboration with the Taiwanese Agriculture and Food Agency. Commercialization, the natural next step, can happen as soon as the next year once the technology transfer is completed.