Clemson students place fourth in international robotics competition

October 19, 2015

Susan Benson, College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences

CLEMSON, South Carolina – Clemson students won fourth place in an international robotics competition held at the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) annual international meeting in New Orleans.

The ASABE competition changes every year and this year the task was to design and construct an autonomous mobile robot able to identify the height and color of soybean plants in a field, then collect and display the data using a visualization program.

The team consisted of seven members, five from Clemson and two from the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics. They all participated in a 10-week “hands on” internship program over the summer with Joe Mari Maja, a research sensor scientist at Clemson University’s Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville, South Carolina.

From left to right at the table: Adam Blocker, holding the robot; Yang Song; Reid Miller.

The six Clemson team members include three from the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences: “Joe” Xin Qiao, team leader and doctoral student in plant and environmental sciences; Nicholas Rogers of Unicoi, Tennessee, a master’s student in plant and environmental sciences; Reid Miller of Edgefield, a master’s student in plant and environmental sciences. Other Clemson students are Yang Song, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering; Le Liu; a doctoral student in computer science; and Adam Blocker of Hampton, now a freshman in mechanical engineering. The seventh team member, Thomas Stanton, now attends Kenyon College.

Over the summer the interns worked with Maja and learned how to build and program robots to collect data for farmers. Maja is working with local farmers to develop drone technologies that will help them gather information on plant and soil health in minutes rather than hours. His research with drones, robotics programming and data collection has demonstrated that drones can be programmed to gather information on soil moisture and plant phenotypes, or attributes, and deliver the data directly to a farmer’s laptop.

“This is the first year a team from Clemson has competed at ASABE and they did an excellent job,” said Maja.

“I think the pressure of the competitive experience sharpened their problem-solving skills under pressure,” he said.

Rogers and Miller were the team’s mechanical design experts. Rogers is the team 3-D printing expert. For the robotic arm, he designed a mechanized gripper and block holder on the computer and then used a 3-D printer to produce the parts. Le Liu and Yang Song worked on the visualization, while Quiao, Stanton and Blocker were in charge of programming the robot’s firmware.

“In preparing for the ASABE competition I used a 3D CAD System that I learned how to use as an undergraduate in agricultural mechanization and business, then using a 3D printer from the Sensor Lab, I was able to print parts for the robot,” said Rogers.

“I learned how to build robots from scratch and also learn how to work with team members from multiple disciplines collaboratively and efficiently. It was truly a great opportunity and a memorable experience. All the hard working turned to be worthwhile when we had our robot running on the competition table successfully,” Quiao added.

Support for the trip to New Orleans was provided by the offices of George Askew, vice president of Clemson Public Service and Agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; and Tanju Karanfil, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Science.

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