Page 24 - Engineering Penn State Magazine: Spring/Summer 2019
P. 24

  DEVELOPING A SYSTEM OF ROBOTIC
FROST PROTECTION IN ORCHARDS
by Chuck Gill
 The National Science Foundation’s Cyber-Physical Systems program awarded more than $843,000 to a team led by Daeun Dana Choi, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering, to develop a system that helps tree-fruit growers avoid frost damage to their crops by using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and ground-based robots.
Every year, the United States produces an average of 15 million tons of deciduous fruit. However, unpredictable frost and freeze events can damage crops significantly and cause substantial economic losses.
Methods commonly used by growers to avoid frost damage include sprinkler systems that form ice on the trees to trap the plants’ heat; heaters to warm the orchard; and fans to
mix colder air at ground level during a temperature inversion with warmer air higher in the atmosphere. These methods are resource-intensive and can be inefficient and impractical.
Choi explained that this three-year project is aimed at reducing the risk of crop damage by using UAVs to monitor air temperatures on nights when there is frost and sending commands to ground robots with heaters mounted on them. In this way, growers can target only those areas most at risk and ensure that all parts of the orchard are protected, while minimizing energy use.
“The project will integrate autonomous vehicles, real-time data analytics, decision-making, and Internet of Things (IoT) communications to significantly reduce the cost, and increase the precision, of frost protection of fruit trees,” she said.
The team, which includes horticulturists and agricultural and mechanical engineers, first will develop UAV-based sensing systems to monitor air temperature of an apple orchard in real time and evaluate developmental stages of blossoms in the field. The researchers then will use this information as inputs to the decision-making and mission-planning process for an autonomous, mobile heating unit. Finally, they will integrate and evaluate communication and cooperative control of the multivehicle system in field tests.
“Frost protection using a novel combination of multivehicle systems for sensing, mission planning, and control in real time is a unique application that has never been tested in orchard conditions,” Choi said. “Successful completion of this project will provide an effective way to maintain crop yield and increase economic profits.”
 24
ENGINEERING PENN STATE
“The project will integrate autonomous vehicles, real-time data analytics, decision-making, and Internet of Things (IoT) communications to significantly reduce the cost, and increase the precision, of frost protection of fruit trees.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is a co-sponsor of the project. Other members of the research team are Paul Heinemann, professor and head of agricultural and biological engineering; Long He, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering; Rob Crassweller, professor of horticulture and extension tree-fruit specialist; David James Lyons, assistant research professor, Applied Research Laboratory; Joseph Sommer, professor of mechanical engineering; and James Schupp, professor of pomology. n
Features
 


















































































   22   23   24   25   26