Fieldbot can be quite bossy

One field robot runs the show and tells other robots what to do, system manages not just monitors events

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Glacier FarmMedia – Fieldbot is no ordinary ag sensor. It issues orders, turns irrigation pumps on and off, controls fans and feeding equipment in livestock operations, even sends dairy cows into the parlour.

Fieldbot can serve as a producer’s eyes and ears, while they’re busy carrying on with the actual work of farming. It will count cattle moving from one paddock to the next and send a text message if one is missing. If they’re all there, it will shut the gate.

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When it’s feeding time in the hog barn or poultry barn, Fieldbot starts the equipment and then stops it when feeding is finished, and manages lights and fans at the same time.

What is this Fieldbot robot? It sounds like the unpaid teenager you wish you had working for you. And therein lies the genesis of Fieldbot, because it also measures water flowing through an irrigation ditch and turns the pump off at a designated volume, says Fieldbot inventor Mitch Brownlie.

“As a kid on the farm, you always get the (crappy) jobs. That was me. I was that kid. I’d have to get up at 2 a.m. to go check the volume of water that’s gone through our cotton crop. It’s supposed to stop at a certain volume but that didn’t always happen,” said Brownlie in a phone interview from Brisbane, Australia.

Those recollections were on his mind five years ago as he began to develop a sensor that measured the volume of passing water, and then made that sensor turn the pumps off at a pre-determined volume. It was not as simple as it sounds.

In this application, the FieldBot records water flow in the pipe and controls the connection to turn pumps off.
photo: Mitch Brownlie

“I developed this FieldMicro SmartFarm system as a matter of necessity for our family irrigation company. There’s no need now to go down there every 20 minutes to check the flow.”

The Fieldbot sends text messages, but not necessarily to a person. If Fieldbot is smart enough to formulate and send an actionable message, then it can send it to another Fieldbot that controls an irrigation gate or pump, or anything else.

Once Brownlie mastered that part, the sky was the limit. Fieldbot could be designed to sense anything: air, water, animals, machinery, people, predators, virtually anything to do with farming. And the text messages could control all types of other devices. It uses a built-in solar panel for power.

Each Fieldbot includes a 640×480 HD still camera. It has GPS positioning and heat/flame detection as well as motion tracking. You can install as many Fieldbots as your farm requires and control them from the SmartFarm platform on your smartphone, tablet or computer.

“All Fieldbots are identical, regardless of what they’ve been told to sense or control. Not only do they send text messages, they all have actuators so they can receive instructions from another Fieldbot and act on those instructions. If the machine is electrical in any sense, then we can add it to the system.” said Brownlie.

There’s nothing new about field sensors logging weather, crop and soil data. But that’s all they do — log data.

“We had one 20 years ago called EnviroScan. It was planted in the ground, but it wasn’t very sturdy. Every time the tractor ran over it, we’d have to run the hard drive back on the motorbike to save the data at the office.

“We’re going to great lengths to make Fieldbot durable and waterproof. To begin with, the case is alloy. Now, you see those three little eyes at the front. The middle one is the video camera. The other two are sensors. It’s built so you just set it out anywhere, then go have lunch and watch the video or the data on your computer.”

Each Fieldbot does all the conventional data gathering, including temperature, humidity, wind, soil moisture, plus video camera, microphone and the ability to control electric and diesel motors.

“Say you have a pump. Now you can connect three things. If it’s electric you have a current monitor clip, which slips around a cable and tells Fieldbot when there’s current. If it’s diesel use the audio to hear the engine. The third is the actuator, which can turn the pump on or off.

“Programming is simple. When you get the package in the mail, we’ve already set up your SmartFarm FieldMicro account for you. At that point it’s already operational.”

Brownlie has teamed up with John Deere so his cloud-based SmartFarm platform receives all the real-time data from his tractors. He’s also working with a satellite company to get updated visuals of the farm.

FieldBot waits for the cows to come home, then it will instruct a 12-volt motor to close the gate. But first, it will account for each and every cow passing through the open gate. If one animal is tardy, FieldBot notifies the rancher.
photo: Mitch Brownlie

A SmartFarm news release says that the central satellite display shows each Fieldbot’s location, with the ability to pull additional overlays onto the farm map. There’s an optional short-wave infrared that shows hidden sources of moisture, heat and other biological, geological or man-made factors. It displays an array of weather and environmental data from third party providers.

The platform allows a farmer to set rules for each Fieldbot or for multiple Fieldbots acting together as a node network. Rules can be set for any piece of equipment connected to a Fieldbot, which in turn can activate another piece of equipment connected to a different Fieldbot.

FieldMicro partnered with John Deere to provide real-time data direct to SmartFarm, thus providing information on the operations, service history, location and other live data from compatible John Deere machines. Information includes details such as fuel, oil and hydraulic levels. It can also protect the machines with geofence and curfew alerts.

Fieldbot operates on either 3G or 4G connections. Each Fieldbot sells for US$800. They are expected to be available later in 2020. For details visit fieldmicro.com.

This article was originally published at The Western Producer.

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