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Agricontrol: a global look at ag robots, automation

Posted by | August 5, 2016
WSU Assistant Professor Manoj Karkee, above working with an apple-picking robot, is organizing the 2016 Agricontrol conference.
WSU Assistant Professor Manoj Karkee, above working with an apple-picking robot, is organizing the 2016 Agricontrol conference.

From robots that pick apples to drones that scout pests over cherry orchards, technology is changing agriculture. Advances like these, and many more, will be shared at an upcoming international conference organized by Washington State University scientists.

Agricontrol 2016, the fifth biannual International Federation of Automatic Control Conference on Sensing, Control and Automation for Agriculture, is August 14 to 17 at the DoubleTree Hotel at SeaTac, Wash.

The conference brings together more than 130 agricultural engineers, computer scientists, growers and students from 25 countries to discuss the future of precision and automated agriculture. Events include a reception, agricultural tours, and presentations of more than 90 technical papers.

“Agricontrol gives us a way to learn from each other,” said Manoj Karkee, associate professor in the WSU Department of Biological Systems Engineering, who is organizing the 2016 conference with fellow WSU researchers.

“It provides a really multidisciplinary environment, where we can look at past achievements, current discoveries, and what we can do for the future,” Karkee said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Researchers and growers see the full spectrum of research and development happening around the world. It shows us a wider horizon of possibilities.”

Automated agriculture has come a long way in recent years, said Karkee.

“In the past, it wasn’t possible due to limited computational power,” he said. “Machines weren’t fast enough. Now, a lot of the component technologies have come together.”

Automation and robotics will help solve farming challenges in labor, worker safety, efficiency and productivity.

WSU professor Lav Khot prepares to fly an 8-bladed octo-copter UAV. UAVs are among discoveries to be discussed at Agricontrol.
WSU professor Lav Khot prepares to fly an 8-bladed octo-copter UAV. UAVs are among discoveries to be discussed at Agricontrol.

With unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, for example, farmers could safely and frequently scout their crops for disease or damage. UAVs can hover closer to crops than manned aircraft, cover more ground than farmers on foot, and zero in on potential trouble spots.

“We can quickly see the difference between a healthy crop, and a crop with problems,” said Karkee. “Instead of going over hundreds of thousands of plants, we can do more specific tests in smaller areas.”

Technology like Karkee’s WSU-pioneered apple-picking robot, or his colleague Lav Khot’s agricultural drones, could become commercially affordable and widespread in less than a decade, says Karkee. He sees the potential for world-changing impact.

“If we can produce fruits and vegetables more sustainably and cost-effectively, we can continue to provide high quality produce to many people at a reasonable cost,” Karkee said. “As a researcher, it feels good to make that kind of impact on the industry and public.”

To register or learn more about Agricontrol 2016, visit http://ifac.cahnrs.wsu.edu/.

Contact: Manoj Karkee, Associate Professor, Biological Systems Engineering, 509-786-9208, manoj.karkee@wsu.edu