Author – Srujana Satyavada
There is no doubt the agricultural sector in India urgently needs to improve productivity through mechanized farming and better practices. Our traditional farming is quite labor-intensive, but cheap labor is becoming hard to find. Meanwhile, the cost of inputs such as fuel, fertilizers and pesticides is increasing steadily. Further, all the farming equipment are not easily available since they are integrated at one place.
This situation is particularly aggravated for sugarcane farming, where planting requires about 350 man-hours and 30.6-bullock pair-hours of work per hectare. This operation will cost around INR3500-4000 under the conventional system of planting, while mechanical planting costs INR2,200/ha. Similarly, the cost of manual harvesting is about INR9,900/ha (INR100/ton) with 990 man-hours as against INR15,700/ha with a labor requirement of 32 man-hours/ha.
There is an urgent need to make modern farming machinery available at an affordable cost to sugarcane farmers. Understanding this need, a bunch of energetic students from the K.J. Somaiya College of Engineering came up with an innovative solution that is eco-friendly as well! Jaykumar Vaidya along with his teammates, Saumitra Lalsare and Kartik Negandhi came up with the idea of Solar Agribot when they were pursuing their second year of engineering at K J Somaiya. They started off as a team of seven students, but were left with just three determined minds at the end.
The innovation finally came through after about a year of research, which was named Solar Agribot to show that it is a solar-powered ‘agricultural robot’. It is a working model prototype that runs majorly on solar power. The Solar Agribot uses a machine-learning algorithm and its components are readily available. The equipment used by farmers are way too mechanical, forcing their labor to use physical strength, but this innovation is powered by electricity.
Mechanism of Solar Agribot
- Ploughing: The equipment was completely handmade, developed in the welding shop by the innovators
- Seeding: It works on the push-pull mechanism powered by a DC motor, which enables seed dropping at regular intervals of time
- Soil levelling: After dropping the seed, the soil is levelled with the help of the handmade welded equipment
- Fertilizer spray: Fertilizer in liquid form is sprayed from the sides through a 12V DC pump
- Communication: Communication is a continuous process and is carried in an infinite loop till the system is ON. This signal comes via GSM technology and PSoC5LP. A notification is sent to the farmer’s cell phone via a text message, about machine theft, material, component, immobile machinery and also whether the seed, fertilizer is emptied and the agribot needs reinsertion of material.
There have been similar innovations happening in India and abroad. P. S. V. Kisshann a mechanical engineer from Gokaraju Rangaraju Institute of Engineering Technology has filed a patent for an agricultural robot that can plough the field, water it and sow seeds for a fixed period of time, with the help of a timer.
However, Jaykumar says his Solar Agribot uses a unique machine learning algorithm that helps it to move on its own by using GPS location technology on the field. The students have spent from of their own pockets to build this model, which costs around INR12,000. The college has supported them only to a small of sending them to competitions, but no monetary support was given as such.
The cost for a mass-produced Solar Agribot machine would be around INR4.15 lakhs. If we compare this cost with a regular tractor, is quite cheaper. Jaykumar feels his Solar Agribot innovation could benefit sugarcane farmers in a major way, if they prefer to choose to buy if over a tractor. In 2016, the K J Somaiya team is planning to apply for a patent for this innovation.
They have already showcased their innovation and won various national level prizes in events such as Avalon 2K15, Technomania 2K15, Prakalp 2015 and IIT-Bombay zonal level project competitions. In this endeavor, they are participating in the Capgemini Innovators Race this year.