Tarzan the Swinging Robot Could Revolutionize Farming

Shelby Rogers

Sure, farmers could check up on their multi-acred cultivations by walking up and down a row. However, in a blistering sun or difficult conditions, that's the last thing anyone wants to do, even if they're the most dedicated of farmers. For those cultivating extensive crops, finely tuned inspections can take what feels like forever. Enter Tarzan.

This swinging robot dangles over crops via suspension on parallel guy-wires. The robots are equipped with cameras to document each row and relay the information gathered back to a host computer. It takes photo after photo of each row and even each plant. UGA researchers created the robot to help them in the university's soybean fields during observations.

While the robot might immediately conjure up comparisons with the fabled Tarzan the Ape Man, it was actually inspired by something very different. The researchers took notes from a creature much slower and hairier -- a sloth.

"A sloth is really energy efficient," said Jonathan Rogers, a mechanical engineering professor from Georgia Institute of Technology. "We're trying to design this robot to be very energy efficient to essentially one day it can be powered by the sun."

"Someday, they may be able to stay at their laptops miles away, in the air conditioning, scanning a steady stream of images and data sent back from the robots," said the report.

Tarzan isn't the only flying robotics system to help farmers. In 2016, a group of U.S. researchers developed an aerial drone (what looked like a small-scale helicopter) that would place sensors on stalks and leaves throughout a 10-acre plot. The researchers gave the drone visible imaging, infrared imaging, and hyperspectral cameras as well. Both the Tarzan team and the St. Louis-based drone team recognize that once the technology for gathering data improves, the real challenge will be sifting through the information.

"My sense is that once [researchers] get good at flying their sensors, they’re going to realize that they have a major computational task ahead of them," said Edgar Spalding with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Computing on all this data is not a desktop scenario."

To check out what else Georgia Tech researchers are doing or to find more information about Tarzan, check out the Georgia Tech robotics page.

Via Georgia Tech


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