Students design future farmers

HASSFURT, Germany — Tomorrow’s farm equipment won’t always pair a farmer with a machine.

In many cases the machines will manage themselves, while the farmers direct the work.

For 14 years a German agricultural robotics competition has helped build the engineers that will create those tools.

Sixteen international student teams participated in the annual International Field Robot Event at the DLG field day held in Hassfurt, Germany.

Each year, student teams enter robots into the contest. Typically, the students are studying engineering and robotics at the university level.

DLG, Europe’s largest farmer’s organization, tests the robots in a variety of challenges.

This year’s challenges included navigation, weed control and sowing. For weed control, robots were expected to accurately locate and treat weeds. The seeding task required robots to load seeds then plant them at specific co-ordinates, which were provided 15 minutes before the competition. Many teams failed.

Wim-Peter Dirks, a member of the team from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said he and his team had been working on their robot since April. He hoped they might have a chance at winning even though they struggled in the navigation task.

“It didn’t work so good yesterday,” he said. “Today, it worked perfectly, so that’s a real bummer for us.”

Dirks thought the wet field conditions might give his team a competitive advantage because he felt the steering capabilities on their robot were better than most.

The Wageningen team didn’t win, but placed third in the seeding challenge.

The winning team was a group of students from the University of Osnabrück in Germany. Their robot, The Great Cornholio, won the first navigation challenge, placed second in the second navigation challenge, and won the weed control challenge.

Dirks and his team weren’t discouraged by the loss but they plan on trying again next year.

“We learned a big lesson this year… to test all parts together. We tested them separately and that didn’t work.”

“Next year,” he said.

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