Renewables

Robotics and green power help small-scale farming

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September 24, 2015

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Published:

September 24, 2015

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Robotics Laboratory of the the Mihajlo Pupin Institute and the the Institute of Agricultural Economics will present their mobile robotic solar electric generator on September 25 at the 9th Forum of Organic Production in Selenča in Serbia’s northwest. The project combines solar energy with information and communications technology to power and manage irrigation at small farms. The device, mounted on a passenger car trailer and easily movable, has just finished its field test.

Serbian agriculture suffers enormous damages from drought, even though the land isn’t without water, says Aleksandar Rodić, head of the Robotics Laboratory and a university professor. “There is abundance of solar energy and quite enough water, but only 2% of the country is irrigated, so our valuable resource, very fertile soil, cannot be utilized properly,” he told Balkan Green Energy News. Serbia was impoverished by sanctions and wars and it keeps lingers in latent passiveness, the project’s chief stressed. “I had heard some colleagues say feeding people should be priority and that robotics is for technologically advanced countries. This hit me emotionally as much as it was frustrating in a professional sense, so I thought we should design something as robotics engineers and address the problem.”

The team of scientists got the idea to use the renewable energy source to power water pumps and get the water to the surface. The mobile solar generator, named MobiSun, is run by intelligent management maintaining battery level. It can be programmed to operate independently for months if needed, and advanced options include theft protection and remote control by smartphone or another similar device.

The concept, being analyzed in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection, is to launch a product affordable for owners of small and mid-sized farms, Rodić said. The Institute of Agricultural Economics, main partner in the project, provided consultancy services. The basic model of MobiSun is operated manually, while advanced versions may cost about 30% more, according to Rodić, who expressed ambition to enter the European and world markets. “The system is very competitive in comparison to those that run on fossil fuels, even though it is more expensive at the start. The investment pays out in three to four years if we deduct the costs for diesel or petrol. The calculation was made for using the generator five months a year for irrigation,” he added.

The MobiSun prototype has a capacity of 3 kW, adequate for pumps used by target consumers. The project has been tested in the field for the last two weeks in four locations near Belgrade, including greenhouses, and the device was engaged to maximum load in corn and cabbage farms.

The mobile robotic solar generator is perfect for organic farming, as there is no possibility of leakage or any other pollution, including noise, the project’s authors say. The prototype costs about EUR 7,000 and, according to Jonel Subić, head of Institute of Agricultural Economics, industrial manufacturing may lower the price by 10%.

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