Mechatronics promises efficient use of inputs, better yield : The Tribune India

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Mechatronics promises efficient use of inputs, better yield

Mechatronic systems can be employed for automated harvesting of crops.

Mechatronics promises efficient use of inputs, better yield


VP Sethi & Manjeet Singh

MECHATRONICS, the integration of mechanics, electronics and computer science, is being used in agriculture for greater safety and convenience and to enhance the crop yield. About 25-30 per cent of today’s smarter, smaller and efficient vehicles are controlled by mechatronics. However, skilled professionals are required to design, operate and repair the systems.

Mechatronic systems can be employed for automated harvesting of crops. Robots equipped with computer vision and manipulation capabilities can identify ripe produce, perform gentle picking and sort accordingly. This can significantly enhance harvesting efficiency, reduce labour costs and minimise crop damage. Robotic harvesting is an emerging field in agricultural technology. Even as there have been advancements globally, its application in India is still in the early stages.

India has a huge market for the manufacturing of machine tools and their applications in sectors such as food, oil/gas, pharmaceuticals and automotives, where mechatronics is being used. Its applications also offer benefits in the field of agriculture.

Precision farming techniques: Mechatronics can enable precision farming techniques to optimise crop production. Practices being adopted include soil testing and nutrient management; variable rate technology of inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation water at variable rates across a field using GPS (global positioning system) and GIS (geographic information system) technologies; remote sensing, satellite imagery and drones for crop monitoring and management; precision irrigation for efficient water management; crop health monitoring to detect diseases or nutrient deficiencies at an early stage; and farm management software which integrates information from various sources, including soil data, weather forecast, crop growth models and financial records.

There are several software which operate robots and drones, such as: (i) Robot operating system, which provides a set of tools, libraries and drivers that help developers build and control robots; (ii) ArduPilot, an open-source autopilot software used for various unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and can plan autonomous control and mission-planning capabilities for drones; (iii) DJI (Da-Jiang Innovations) software development kit, which allows developers to create applications and control DJI drones. It offers features like flight control, camera control and access to drone telemetry; (iv) PX4 autopilot for controlling autonomous vehicles, including drones. It provides a flight control system, mission planning and other software components for drone operations.

Robotic harvesting: Mechatronic systems can be employed for automated harvesting of crops. Robots equipped with computer vision and manipulation capabilities can identify ripe produce, perform gentle picking and sort accordingly. This can significantly enhance harvesting efficiency, reduce labour costs and minimise crop damage. Robotic harvesting is an emerging field in agricultural technology, and although there have been some advancements globally, its application in India is still in the early stages.

Automated irrigation systems: Mechatronics can assist in the development of smart irrigation systems. Sensor networks can monitor soil moisture content, weather conditions and plant water requirements. By analysing this data, automated systems can precisely deliver water based on the specific needs of each crop, resulting in better water utilisation and improved yields.

Autonomous farm vehicles: Mechatronic technology can contribute to the development of autonomous vehicles for various tasks on the farm, such as seeding, spraying and ploughing. These vehicles can integrate artificial intelligence-powered navigation systems, computer vision and advanced sensors to perform tasks efficiently and accurately, reducing human error and increasing productivity.

Crop monitoring and management: Mechatronic devices like drones and UAVs, equipped with cameras and sensors, can provide real-time crop monitoring and management. They can capture high-resolution images, collect data on plant health, detect diseases and identify nutrient deficiencies. This information can help farmers make prompt decisions, implement targeted interventions and optimise crop yield.

An efficient use of inputs is required for optimised agriculture, with every aspect fully controlled and automated.

Sensors and apps are being developed for managing natural resources such as soil. Berlin-based Agricultural Tech has developed a Deep Learning application called Plantix that reportedly identifies potential defects and nutrient deficiencies in the soil. An analysis is conducted by software algorithms which correlate particular foliage patterns with certain soil defects, plant pests and diseases. The image recognition app identifies possible defects through images captured by the user’s smartphone. Users are then provided with soil restoration techniques, tips and other possible solutions. California-based Trace Genomics provides soil analysis services to farmers. The system uses Machine Learning to give clients an idea of their soil’s strengths and weaknesses. The emphasis is on preventing the growth of defective crops and optimising the potential for healthy crop production.

Electronically controlled precise sowing of seed: An electronically controlled seed singulation device can address several inefficiencies experienced in a commercially available seed metering device and has the potential to increase productivity and yield. With each row unit individually controlled, the electronic control system is able to verify that the required amount of seed is being sprayed independently of other rows. If coupled with GPS, it will allow precise placement of seed along the row, reducing overall seed usage.

Efficient use of weedicides, pesticides and insecticides: The areas affected by weeds, pests or those having lodged crop are geo-referenced by putting some indicators or using GPS technology. Soil sampling of the areas is done and these are managed spatially for the next crop’s management. Pest problem areas in crops can be pinpointed and mapped for future management decisions and input recommendations.

Automatic boom section control for agricultural sprayers is becoming a popular precision agriculture technique. This system is suitable for installation on self-propelled, pull-behind or three-point hitch-mounted sprayers. The potential economic and environmental benefits of this system are gaining the attention of producers and custom applicators looking to reduce their overall chemical costs.

Sethi is Head, Dept of Mechanical Engineering, and Singh is Dean, College of Agricultural Engineering & Technology, PAU, Ludhiana

#Agriculture


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