The Farm Gate as a Phase Gate

In project management terminology a phase gate, a design gate, a or stage gate is a pre-planned moment for either a go or a no-go decision.

The go or no-go decision is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult due to the early emotions of hope and optimism during early planning.  The design planning phase, which is sometimes called the honeymoon phase, is the time when engineering and project management skill means everything so as to screen bottlenecks, failure points, time hogs, or behavioral anti-patterns before the project moves on to the implementation phase.  The implementation phase, driven by commitment and dedication, is the drive to product testing.  Testing, to borrow from agricultural idiom, is when the wheat is separated from the chaff.  The testing process requires both patience and perseverance.  When everything clicks, design teams experience the thrill of profitability.  When it does not, a plans are made for a closeout.

The Agbot competition was an excellent opportunity to get a realistic view of the team’s ability to create a product with marketability.  The open market is tougher than a well hosted competition.  Competitors in the open market communicate less openly.  Self-appointed critics from the open market are not as qualified contest judges.  Performance criteria are vague compared to contest criteria.  Consequences for failure are far greater in the open market than in a challenge.   And, perhaps most directly affecting the team, a phase gate may be more difficult to set up than a contest involving a set date, time, and a physical farm gate.

With the gates closed and another year done, this team is doing some very serious regrouping.

Special thanks to all of the Cricket project contributors including:

  • Planters offered at a discount by T& T tractor
  • Seed Meters were offered at a steep discount by Precision Planting.
  • Both Florence Hydraulics and Professional Hydraulics in Florence, South Carolina Offered discounts on parts.
  • Monsanto donated test corn.
  • Dillon Tractor donated planter parts.
  • Team Members Andy Herring, JR Edens, and Robby Jowers contributed many hours free of charge.

At the moment, the Cricket is a no-go. The no-go decision is certainly reversible because it has a strong frame, power to spare, and several ahead-of-the-market ideas; however, certain debilitating lock-ins, which led to the downfall of both projects, need to be resolved.  To resolve these lock-ins I relinquished control of the Cricket project with the electronics in tact hoping the Cricket can be made farm-worthy before the window of opportunity on this technology closes forever.

The Yamaha project is a go.  The go decision was made because not only are its lock-ins innocuous, but also the completed parts on this machine function.  Functionality with this machine, operating on a robust wireless network, will last till the machine runs out of fuel.  Its range of operation is confirmed to be half of a mile with a clear line of site.  This machine can be tele-operated and is ready to accept software.  Within the software is an isolation layer which allows the same software to run completely different machines.  This machine is ready for further development of advanced electronic capabilities.

A Real Grizzly, Accept No Substitutes, KITTENS!!!

A Real Grizzly Being Prepped for the Weed and Feed

The Grizzly ATV donated to our team by Yamaha was partially prepped for conversion into a Grizzly ATV… as in Grizzly Awesome Terrain Vehicle … to avoid confusion with other robotic units and actual Grizzly Bears.

A redundant failsafe controller was installed on the cricket.  The cricket is designed so if any juncture loses power, the vehicle comes to a stop.

The shop kitty was too occupied to approve…  Since the start of the project, the drone room’s occupancy has grown from one drone and two cats to two drones and seven cats.

Kittens!

 

The Preflight Prefarm Checklist – Let’s Introduce 21st Century Farm Tech Right the First Time

This is an open letter to the entire agriculture community.

Agriculture is getting ready to make a similar transition aviation made in the early 20th century.  In the early 20th century the World War II era bombers transitioned from two to four engines.  Four engines increased the complexity of the bomber to the point skilled pilots were losing their planes and their lives.  The loss of life prompted the creation of a preflight checklist.  The preflight checklist saved lives and made flying safer.

“If checklists make flying safer, then where is the pre-surgery checklist?” was a question posed by neurosurgeon Antal Gawande in his 2009 book “The Checklist Manifesto.”  In this book he points out a checklist prevents mistakes of ineptitude.  Mistakes of ineptitude differed from mistakes of ignorance.  Mistakes of ignorance come from a lack of knowledge, while mistakes of ineptitude come from an improper use of knowledge.

The knowledge of a surgeon is vast; however, this vastness means little if, during surgery, a single gauze goes missing.  A missing gauze left inside a patient can cause surgical complications.  These complications could be easily avoided with a routine checklist.

Simple checklists could have saved many lives if introduced earlier in both the aviation and medicals fields.  The field of agriculture is on the brink of undergoing the same complexity transition, so checklists need to be introduced into the future of farming vision now.

The following is a ficticious example of how a prefarm checklist could be envisioned..

An Early Agbot on the Move

 

The farmer gets up before daybreak and pulls out the pre-farm checklist.  The pre-farm checklist is the farmer’s personal selection from a composite of suggestions from fellow farmers, local and national farm organizations, and the agbot manufacturer.  The famer even gets a discount from the insurance company for faithful use of the pre-farm checklist.  The checklist has suggestions for improving yield, protecting the environment, and assuring safety. Many suggestions came from the local government; however, the government does not mandate the checklist.  The ever evolving checklist becomes the pride of the agriculture community as the checklist is the first line of defense ensuring agbots are used appropriately.

 

Going through the list, the farmer catches a few things.  The first is a leak in one of the lead-acid batteries which is promptly replaced.  The second involves his agbot being derived from a converted tractor.  The tractor is not fully converted back to automatic mode because of an oversight by the last operator which left the agbot with no brake control.  Brake control was returned by simply attaching the brake controller.  The third is a glitch causing no signal in the right forward proximity sensor.  The glitch turns out to be a simple loose terminal screw which is tightened.  A fourth is a patch of mud on the rear camera, which is promptly cleaned. With the checklist cleared the farmer sends the agbot on its way to complete its mission which is set to run till late evening.

 

Before the evening is out, the farmer gets a text message that the proximity sensor on his agbot stopped it at the edge of the road.  Going down the road the farmer finds a person with a camera poking around the agbot.  The agbot stands silently by as the camera person explains his reason for stopping.  Though the accent of this person sounds strange, the farmer has a cordial conversation and sends the person on his way.   Upon review of the footage of the rear camera, the farmer realizes the person’s car had an out of state tag and a pro-dairy “got milk” bumper sticker.  Knowing the person was simply a tourist interested in seeing an agbot, the agbot gets the “all-okay” signal to complete its mission.

 

As the sun sets, the agbot moves to its stop point and shuts down.  The farmer knew the day went by without incident. With peace of mind the farmer rested well.

-Jerry M.

Shop Kitty Teaches Third Graders Engineering

The shop kitty got a chuckle from four different classes of third graders as well as got the third graders to thinking.  Third graders in South Carolina are introduced to engineering by learning how to define an engineering problem, then thinking of ways to solve the problem.

               Engineering Problem?

Fire Extinguisher Selected

The fire extinguisher selected for the Cricket is a Purple K extinguisher.  The purple K extinguisher is a dry-chemical fire suppressor, mostly potassium bicarbonate, effective against class B, or fuel fires.   It is partially effective against C fires, or electrical fires.

Any farm operation storing a large quantity of fuel would do well to keep one of these handy. Robby, who has experience working for a fire extinguisher company, is the team member who selected the extinguisher.   (The cat helped)

 

Artificial Intelligence – Farming and Felines

Some people think artificial intelligence going to surpass human intelligence leading to a thinking machine world dominance.  The idea of world dominance by anything exceeding human intelligence has one unexplained existential fallacy, which is the current world dominance by felines.

Like their feline brethren, who have already assumed control of the Internet, the two felines guarding the agbots have taken their spot in the revolution of technology.  While guarding the new technology, the two cats have slaughtered numerous field mice and rats which were after the grain stores and interior wiring on the agbots.   These agbots hold the promise of participating in filling feline food bowls, so the felines have permitted their survival.

Intelligence aside,  the dumb network on the cricket agbot has been tested in the control rudimentary maneuvers.    Maneuvering the cricket, like its military counterpart, can be done via a game controller.  The controller, for the moment, has been left in the control of the cats.

 

Shop Kitty Approves 2nd Agbot Design based on Yamaha Grizzly

The cat, who as a kitten watched the construction of the Cricket all the way from its beginnings as a pile of metal on the floor, to a fully refactored competitor inspected a new piece of machinery.  This new piece of machinery, a fully functional Grizzly ATV, was donated by Yamaha to be used as a base for the second Agbot,

While the people on the team were impressed with the Grizzly’s power and suspension, the feature which impressed the cat was a very comfortable seat.  The seat was an ideal spot to curl up for a cat nap, contemplate participating in the design, or supervise the testing of the Cricket.  The Cricket was just starting test runs to validate field worthiness.

The development arc of the second agbot is currently planned using lessons learned from the Cricket development arc.  The new development arc for the second Agbot, for what it is worth,  involves the same team of cats.