Is artificial intelligence the future of farming? These local students think so

Posted at 4:45 PM, Jun 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-04 21:42:11-04

Since 2012, Duke Bulanon has been working on improving farming with technology. Several years and grant applications later, his students are working towards the solution: IdaBot.

"First phase navigation, the second phase finding the fruits, the third phase picking up the fruits," said associate professor of physics and engineering Dr. Duke Bulanon.

The goal of IdaBot is for farmers to use it however they need, like for spraying chemicals or harvesting fruit with a robotic arm attachment. The robotic device is a result of work from a specialty crop block grant from the US Department of Agriculture. Fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts are some of the more common specialty crops. Idaho ranks in the top 5 specialty crop producers in the nation, according to their research.

Students are currently working on the second phase of the device; getting IdaBot to estimate early fruit yields.

"We're giving a prediction of the fruit, but the goal is to give them more information on where their trees are going best, or maybe blossoms will indicate how healthy their tree is," said a senior student at Northwest Nazarene University Sam Roth.

They're using artificial intelligence to train the robot to determine where the fruit actually is.

"So we had to find data points in our sample pictures of what the blossoms RGB colors are and what not blossoms, are," said freshman student Trevor Braddock.

Eventually, they're trying to transfer that video feed into an app so farmers can monitor it remotely.

"Everyone has a phone these days, smartphones, so we're trying, and so they can just download it and then just take pictures of the trees they want to get the estimated crop yield for," said freshman student Joseph Bulanon.

Determining fruit yields early is vital for both storage and economic purposes for farmers.

"Farmers told me, I'm working with Symms Fruit Ranch, and Williamson Fruit Ranch and what they told me is if you market your fruit late in the season, the prices of the fruit drop by 20%," said Bulanon.

It's still not quite the season to see their work in action in the orchards, but students say they won't stop until they see their work in action.

"I've learned more doing this research than actually learning from a classroom, cause in a classroom they tell you what to learn and you really don't know what you're going to use outside of that," said Joseph, "but like here in the research, I actually have to produce results,"

"I want it to work and be practical for farmers, not just for them but for us to be able to say we did something that was successful and worked," said Roth.