Every time a farmer climbs into a grain bin, he’s literally taking his life into his own hands. Since 2010, more than 330 entrapments have been reported in grain bins in the U.S., and, in 2019, 23 of those resulted in fatalities.
Nebraska farmer Zach Hunnicutt estimates he has to enter his 11 grain bins at least five times a year to move grain or remove corn and soybeans that have gone out of condition. Besides being dangerous, it’s a hot, dirty job, he says.
“My friend Zach asked me to build a robot so he would never have to go into a grain bin again,” said Ben Johnson, an electrical engineering student at the University of Nebraska Omaha and chief innovation officer at Grain Weevil Corporation. Johnson co-founded Grain Weevil with his father, Chad Johnson, in Aurora, Neb.
“Grain bins are hot, dirty and dangerous workplaces,” said Johnson. “To adequately manage stored grain, farmers are exposed to potential falls, entrapments, augur entanglements and long-term-conditions such as farmers lung.”
Speaking during the AgLaunch Start-up Station event during this year’s virtual Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, Johnson said that until now “a farmer with a shovel has always been the best solution for managing grain. Unfortunately, this led to 23 entrapments deaths in 2019 alone. Even worse, one out of five grain bin accidents involve teenage boys.”
Johnson says Grain Weevil has created a robot that can not only keep farmers out of the grain bins, but fundamentally change the way grain bins are managed. “The Grain Weevil addresses storage challenges by working smarter, not harder,” he said.
“It scurries across the top of the grain using augur-based propulsion. In doing this, it reduces the viscosity of the grain which allows gravity to do the rest of the work, smoothing out the walls of grain and breaking up the crusts and ridges. It is lightweight, portable and powerful enough to replace the farmer with the shovel.”
The grain weevil weighs just under 30 pounds and comes in a backpack for safe transport to the top of the bin. Other features include a swappable payload bay, expandable battery pack, a video stream and a basic sensor package.
“The robot can be driven by a handheld remote control and will eventually operate autonomously,” he said. “We are also designing a robot to be paired with multiple robots in a swarm of individual grain weevils.”
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