SOLAR-POWERED PRECISION FARMING ROVER
According to the Population Reference Bureau, the world population is estimated to grow from 7.6 billion in 2017 to 9.9 billion by 2050. The World Bank has estimated that the demand for food will upsurge by 70% by 2050 and $80 billion annual investment will be required to meet the objectives. Meanwhile, consumer demand for organics has shown double digit growth in the last decade. With this demand and concern for environmental health, the USDA has established an incentive structure that spurs growers to find the set of practices that produces the greatest benefit at the lowest cost to natural resources. It’s well-known that organic farming is labor intensive, yet commercial farming operations are facing a major labor shortage, leaving more than $3.1 billion crops to rot in the fields annually.
The Precision Farming Rover (PFR) is an autonomous, lightweight, solar-powered open-source platform. Out of the box, the platform will be equipped with standardized hardware and software interfaces, autonomous navigation, safety and power management systems. It will provide a scalable, sustainable, and economically feasible foundation for others to build apps for tasks such as planting, seeding, weeding and crop inspection.
The automated Precision Farming Rover will help commercial farmers establish sustainable food production systems and mitigate conventional farming’s damaging effects to the ecosystem by providing remote and continuous opportunity for crop inspection and remediation, as well as planting, seeding, weeding, and harvesting. Twisted Fields is designing this platform with an exclusive license to technology developed by its intellectual property partner, Vecna Robotics, which has successfully developed and commercialized autonomous mobile robots for use in unstructured industrial settings. At scale, the PFR will increase yield for commercial farmers, increase access to high-quality produce for the consumer at home and abroad, and reduce reliance on farming practices that harm the environment and the health of those working the land.
STACKABLE FARMING FOR SUSTAINABLE FOOD PRODUCTION
Lack of fresh, year-round produce contributes to illness for the 13.5 million Americans who in live "food deserts," those mostly urban areas where little but fast and processed food is available. Growing urban produce is possible using controlled environment agriculture (CEA), including greenhouses and artificially lighted "plant factories," but has been difficult to do affordably and flexibly. Building and labor costs are a major problem for greenhouses, and using conventional automation has required large, hard-to-modify mechanical setups. The project will design and demonstrate a complete CEA system that uses stack-able farming techniques and robots in place of the large fixed infrastructure conveyor systems or human labor to reduce both building and operational costs. The robots and the software to orchestrate them are proven in the material handling industry and need only be adapted to this innovative approach to farming. This project addresses five USDA National Challenge Areas: food security, climate variability and change, childhood obesity, food safety, and water.
Over time, the CEA system will also help America promote agricultural production and biotechnology exports by enabling the easy shipment of self-sustaining food production systems. The grow box approach will benefit the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture, in large part by removing much of weather-related uncertainty and other risks currently inherent in agriculture. The grow boxes will enable rapid response to market demand (such as direct access to produce at farmers' markets), improving the overall economics of agriculture. This solution improves access to high-quality fruit, vegetable, and proteins at affordable prices in urban environments and food deserts. If this approach to farming year-round is successful in what otherwise would have been unfavorable climates for off-season agriculture, the technology will create opportunity for policy changes. Candidate policies to be considered might include a greater emphasis on local food production, as well as reducing the costs of energy generation to support food growth.