By Kelsey Ligon
Zionsville resident Rachel Gerrish is working with the team at airBridge to develop an unmanned robot that will be able to plant crops unassisted.
“We are working to revolutionize the farming industry and build these robots eventually right here in central Indiana,” said Gerrish, the director of operations at Rockville-based airBridge, an agriculture communication solutions company.
Building an unmanned robot is no small feat; It requires the application of precision software, data management analytics, drones and rural broadband connectivity.
Because this is a big undertaking, airBridge has offered a challenge to university students across the U.S.
Teams from 11 universities have been given one year to build the best unmanned robot, which they will showcase at Gerrish Farms in Parke Co. May 7 in the agBOT Challenge.
Leading up to the agBOT Challenge, airBridge will also host multiple hackathons and a NextGen Expo.
The hackathons offer teams the opportunity to work for two days on a specific aspect of the project with the help of mentors. Purdue won the January hackathon, and the next is set for March 25 and 26.
The day before the Challenge, airBridge will host the NextGen Expo, which is open to students from school districts across the state. Students will be able to meet the teams, fly drones, drive robots and experience some of the new technology being put into the field.
The agBOT Challenge has received notice from national companies like John Deere, Monsanto and AGCO Corporation. Gerrish expects to have the teams pair with larger investment companies to commercialize their robots and bring them to local farmers within the next two to three years.
If successful, the unmanned robots have the potential to improve farming practices by making energy usage more efficient, improving water conservation, reducing soil erosion and lowering costs.