'FarmBot' system coming to Big Bend CC

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Courtesy photo - A FarmBot unit (pictured) will be coming to Big Bend Community College sometime this summer or fall. College officials bought the unit in partnership with the Center of Excellence in Agriculture.

MOSES LAKE — Big Bend Community College students in the agriculture program – not to mention computer science and research sciences, and maybe others – will get a chance to learn about and use robots in a farm setting, thanks to a partnership with the Center of Excellence for Agriculture.

FarmBot is a “fully automated robotic farming machine,” said Tiffany Sukola, BBCC’s communications coordinator. The center provided $3,500 toward the purchase of the unit in exchange for “at least two years of data reporting from the college.” FarmBot should be coming to campus by the end of the summer.

The first use of FarmBot will be in the mechatronics program, Sukola said. Program director Gary Baker said FarmBot will be part of students’ capstone project. Students will “program the FarmBot, troubleshoot and fix any problems, and be responsible for its overall maintenance.”

Students will “get to see it work as an example of what mechatronics can do in the area of agriculture,” Baker said.

FarmBot “attaches to a raised planter bed and moves around to plant seeds, test soil content, water plants and even detect and destroy weeds,” Sukola wrote. It debuted in 2016 and is one of the first open-source computer numerical control (CNC) farming systems in the world.

Students in the mechatronics program have already worked with a lot of the equipment and programs used by FarmBot, Baker said. The unit is powered by the Raspberry Pi computer system and with an Arduino microcontroller; students learn to work with that technology early in the mechatronics program. “Working with the FarmBot and incorporating it into their capstone (project) fits together with their other training,” Baker said.

The Raspberry Pi system was invented by British computer scientists as a cheap and easy way to learn coding. Its original purpose was to help people in developing countries learn coding, and make coding education more accessible to schools. But the computer has been adapted to many different uses since its development.

The computer performs many of the same functions as a desktop, including word processing and spreadsheets, internet browsing and games. It connects to a monitor and to a standard keyboard and mouse.

Jim Leland, a student in the unmanned systems and mechatronics programs, said he was one of the people lobbying for acquisition of the FarmBot. There’s a lot of potential to use the FarmBot in other programs, he said, such as computer science and research science disciplines.

“This has far-reaching implications once we get going,” Leland said. “The possibilities are there. It’s very exciting.”

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