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Tractrobot: Revolutionising farming

Anand Kashyap
GIS Development

Competition induces innovation which gives rise to more user-friendly products. ‘Tractrobot’ is one such example. It is a system that enables farmers to remotely control their tractors for carrying on various farming activities like tilling, seeding, spraying and harvesting. ‘Tractrobot’ may appear complicated but a team of Sanjay Bansaland his associates Aman Jain and Rishabh Goyal have made sure that it isn’t.

Bansal said it was the price rise of food products in India that steered them towards the Tractrobot. “Our team conducted a survey about price rise of food products. We found that there are many problems faced by farmers today. This encouraged us to develop a product that is easy to use, cost effective, maintenance free and user friendly.”

‘Tractrobot’ is a reusable system or tool that replaces human controlled agricultural operations with an autonomous tractor by using cutting edge technologies like GPS, GIS, remote video monitoring, artificial intelligence, SMS, etc.

The solution is implemented using a controller unit consisting of an Intel Atom processor and an ALTERA ARRIA FPGA, connected together via PCI Express with a special interface. It provides a user-friendly Graphical user interface (GUI) to control the tractor. The device is a hands-free steering system for straight-line/user-defined operations. It has an inbuilt obstacle tracking feature which provides a smooth navigation to the tractor. It can be customised to meet any new farming practices. The remote console unit can be used to steer the tractor through a joystick with video monitoring system. Multiple tractors can be controlled by a single remote.

Access from anywhere: The video streaming feature of remote unit allows users, sitting anywhere, to view the current status of the work. Its SMS based reporting system provides users with an update about the current status of work even if he is not in the concerned area.
Access to information: Inbuilt GIS and GPRS system of Tractrobot provides farmers with the latest update about weather and technological improvements. The RSS feed/SMS alerts are also available on remote and console of tractor.

Available in local languages: Graphical user interface (GUI) supported by audio/video guides in localised languages makes it user-friendly.

Role of GPS & GIS
Hands-free steering system is one of the key features of Tractrobot. For straight-line/user-defined operations, the first step is to calibrate the system. This is where GPS comes into the picture. The system automatically maps the GPS points of the area and a field map is then displayed on the screen. The user can save it or recalibrate it. Once the coordinates of the field are stored, he can opt for any mode of operation, auto or manual.

By default the system works on an auto mode. It analyses the spatial data and suggests the best method of farming practice. It shows the result of analysis in the form of a simple graph on the remote control screen. Now, it depends on the user whether he wants to go with the system analysis or draw his own path. Once farming starts, the status is shown on the screen in the form of a simple graph.

Bansal explains, “Tractrobot uses Garmin OEM GPS and 3-axis accelerometer. With 3-axis spatial data, the system can easily identify the pits and jams and accordingly switch to recovery mode while navigating its way through the fields. The remote not only provides easy to use graphs but also forecasts environmental statistics like temperature, weather forecast, etc.”

“It was a huge challenge to design a user-friendly system and GUI in various languages. Scaling the GPS data to screen size and mapping the real time coordinates along with the animation were amongst the most challenging parts of the project,” said Bansal.

Technology inspires today’s generation and Tractrobot is its testimony. What else can explain the huge participation of people in the just concluded Intel India Embedded Challenge 2010, which was eventually won by the Tractrobot team.