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agBOT Challenge offers glimpse into future of planting, weed control

autonomous planter
NO OPERATOR NECESSARY! South Newton FFA students developed this planter from scratch. It’s capable of planting corn without a driver. It placed second in the 2016 agBOT Challenge.
This is the second year for a unique event held near Rockville that’s tailor-made for technology buffs.

If you want to get an up-close and personal glimpse into the future, you need to be at Gerrish Farms near Rockville on June 23-25 for the second annual agBOT Challenge; it’s open to the public.

Competitive teams from all over the U.S. and Canada will be available to talk with visitors on June 23. An autonomous seeding competition will be held on June 24, and an autonomous weed and feed competition on June 25.

So by now you’re wondering what agBOT is, as well as “autonomous” planting and seeding competitions, right? Rachel Gerrish of airBridge, an agricultural communication solutions company, and co-founder of agBOT, explains the details and why you should attend in this interview with Indiana Prairie Farmer.

What is agBOT all about? We want to encourage the use of robotics in agriculture. We created agBOT as a showcase event in 2016. Last year there was one competition: the autonomous seeding challenge. This year we have NextGen Expo on June 23, followed by the seeding challenge on June 24 and the weed and feed challenge on June 25.

What do you mean by “autonomous” seeding challenge? Teams of students or developers construct planters that function on their own, without the need of an operator. They have to meet stringent guidelines, and the planter must be able to perform specific tasks in the field. The goal is to be able to plant corn without anyone being around the planter. It needs to be able to plant at a variable rate, plant two hybrids and do all the things that are part of modern planting technology.

Teams expected to compete in the seeding challenge this year include Muchowski Farms, Cal Poly, Virginia Tech, Grit Robotics, Ohio State University, Lairdscape and Pee Dee Precision Ag.

What is the weed and feed challenge? This is new this year. The challenge is to build a machine that can spray and maneuver on its own through the field. The machine must be able to identify three common weeds and eliminate them, either chemically or mechanically.

Teams expected to compete in this event on June 25 include Purdue University, North Star Robotics, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, University of Regina, Muchowski Farms, Gizmore, Grit Robotics, Agribotist, Pee Dee Precision Ag and Prairie Robotics.

What does your company do, and what led to agBOT? Our primary business is airBridge LLC. We provide rural broadband service. The technology was developed by Broadband Antenna Tracking Systems, or BATS, just a few years ago. Learn more at We are all about technology, and we see robotics becoming a bigger part of agriculture. That’s why we wanted to encourage universities and other groups around the country to go forward with solutions to ag problems using robotics.

Do you put on agBOT alone, or do you have sponsors? We have sponsors. This year our platinum-level sponsors are The Climate Corporation and Yamaha Motor Corp. The teams in the two challenges compete for a sizable amount of prize money.

Can anyone attend these events? Yes. The NextGen event on Friday is free. However, you need to register online. There is a charge to watch the competitions on Saturday and Sunday. You can also order tickets online.

How can people register or order tickets? They can go to our website, Look for information about the 2017 events. They can also find more details about what is involved in the competitions online.

How else can they get more information? I will be glad to answer questions. My email is [email protected].

TAGS: Planters
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