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Mon, June 19, 2006 : Last updated 23:22 pm (Thai local time)



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Home > Business > Flying robot helps farmers avoid dangerous chemicals





MECHATRONICS
Flying robot helps farmers avoid dangerous chemicals

You want to put fertiliser or pesticide on your crops, but don't want to expose yourself to such toxic substances.

Maybe you want to survey an unknown area to see the view from the sky, but it's too risky and expensive to send someone to do the surveillance.

The mechatronics laboratory at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) has developed an autonomous flying robot to help farmers fertilise fields and conduct aerial surveillance. "The robot has minimised human risk factors as it is controlled by a computer on the ground," said Sukon Puntunan, a doctoral student at AIT, who helped develop the flying robot.

It's designed like a helicopter and equipped with a 16-bit on-board flight control microprocessor. This small computer is key to its function as it controls the robot's roll, pitch and yaw positions.

The device comes alive and performs tasks when an operator feeds flight-plan information into a computer at the ground station, which is then transmitted to the machine on board through a wireless modem. This information is vital, as it guides the robot to predetermined destinations and helps it to perform tasks like spraying or capturing images.

It is designed in such a way that the on-board computer system continuously communicates with the ground station's system to receive and update new commands every 200 milliseconds within a three-kilometre range. The geographical positioning system (GPS) allows the robot to pinpoint its current position and chart its next moves.

Sukon said the robot also comes with six degrees of freedom in its motion, so it can fly forward, back, left, right, up or down. The project's adviser Manukid Parnichkun said that the team's intention was to design the robot for agricultural purposes, especially to spray pesticide and fertilisers, but when they added a digital camera its use expanded to survey purposes.

"New applications emerged. We can use the robot not only for agricultural purposes but for natural resource exploration, surveillance and military purposes as well," he said.

In the meantime, to reduce the risk to human life, the robot can monitor or survey hazardous areas including those contaminated by toxic chemicals or biological agents. It can gather information and initiate appropriate action. Geological-survey and map-generation applications can also be achieved with the help of the flying robot. It is also cheaper than aeroplanes and helicopters.

Manukid said the technology could also be applied to support a new intelligent transportation system as officials could use the flying robot to help survey traffic and send information to the centre to aid traffic management.

However the flying robot is now just a prototype and Sukon said more development is needed to make the robot stable, accurate and to customise it for specific purposes.

Pongpen Sutharoj

The Nation








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