New Robot Is Future Farmer’s Helper

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

A robot inspired by a hamster may be able to help out farmers by monitoring soil conditions on their land.

The spherical-shaped robot works similarity to how a hamster is able to make a wheel move. It relocates its center of gravity to help make the robot roll over itself. This locomotion allows ROSPHERE to travel on non-compacted surfaces, such as dirt and sand.

ROSPHERE features an embedded computer that processes all sensor information in order to define control actions in both degrees of freedom (DOFs) to reach predefined trajectories. It is able to move backward and forward, as well as make turns.

The team from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid developed the robot to find a method of location that would not be thwarted by uneven or difficult terrain. Wheeled robots can struggle on shifting ground or places strewn with lots of large and small objects. However, ROSPHERE’s unique locomotion allows it to move past these hurdles.

Researchers hope ROSPHERE will eventually be able to travel around fields to monitor conditions and tell farmers the best time to water or tend to their crops. The robot will be able to do this by utilizing its wireless communication system and sensors, which are able to report on moisture levels and temperature. The onboard computer is able to process sensor information such as 9-DOF Inertial Measurement Unit and GPS.

ROSPHERE works similar to the small robotic ball Sphero created by Orbotix. This spherical robotic ball is controlled through an iPhone and moves similar to how the researchers have designed ROSPHERE to move. However, Sphero is designed as more of a toy, while ROSPHERE was created as a tool.

The scientists first used the robot to measure in situ the environment variables on the rows of crops, where the robot shape is suitable for rolling and gathering information. They are working on a second prototype to help improve the mechanical aspects of the robot, as well as include external units supplied with additional sensors.

Another technology being developed to help robots move through sand is known as “terradynamics.”

“We now have the tools to understand the movement of legged vehicles over loose sand in the same way that scientists and engineers have had tools to understand aerodynamics and hydrodynamics,” said Daniel Goldman, a professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We are at the beginning of tools that will allow us to do the design and simulation of legged robots to not only predict their performance, but also to optimize designs and allow us to create new concepts.”