I was able to attend the 2012 robot competition of the American Society of Agricultural & Biological Engineers (ASABE) recently. When did agricultural engineering students start studying robots? Just as students in any field need to know about computers, it seems robots too are becoming ubiquitous. This year's contest was designed to encourage students to think about ways robots could solve agricultural problems such as optimizing distribution of feed in cattle lots. Read on for photos and more info about the contest.
The competition field is intended to represent a scale model of a cattle feed lot containing many cattle pens. Within each pen is a feed container. The robot's job is to read feed allotments from a flash card provided at the start of the run and distribute the correct amount of feed into each pen's feed container. Feed is simulated by 6mm Airsoft pellets. Judges score the robots based on both the speed and accuracy. The weight of each feed container is measured after a run. Robots lost points if they collided with fences or walls, or if the they required hands-on assistance from a human during a run.
The feed pellets complicated the competition in a way I've not seen in other types of events. If a robot missed a feed container and dumped a load of feed pellets onto the playing field, it created a constantly changing area of small obstacles that the robot had to move through.
I was also impressed by the range of feed dispensing mechanisms the contestants came up with, ranging from elegant and simple to over-engineered Rube Goldberg contraptions.
You can see more photos of the event in my flickr set: ASABE Student Robotics Contest 2012. I also wrote a bit more about the event in the October issue of SERVO Magazine.