With the rip of a chain saw, a robot lumberjack is preparing to clear pastureland. Using coordinates captured by a drone, it’s on a mission to seek, find and destroy.
Researchers in Oklahoma are using unmanned ground and aerial vehicles as a wedded pair to attack invasive eastern red cedar trees, a scourge of Great Plains producers. As the technology unfolds, the framework carries a host of possibility for all areas of agriculture.
A 4′-long and 42″-wide unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) sits on the shop floor of the Oklahoma State University (OSU) Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, waiting patiently for a chance in the field. Reminiscent of a lunar rover, painted cowboy orange and built from 1″ square tubing, it is the brainchild of OSU grad student and research engineer Collin Craige, designed and developed by him as a doctoral project. With a mechanical arm able to reach 3′ beyond the frame, the 275-lb. vehicle is a lethal hunter, capable of finding, securing and slicing its prey in half.
Craige’s UGV hunts eastern red cedar trees, an incessant and costly nuisance species for Great Plains landowners. Initially brought to the Great Plains to create windbreaks and control erosion, red cedar has thrived and taken over ground as a water-sucking beast, reducing forage growth and boosting fire risks. Control costs can be a heavy burden on producers, sometimes nearing $200 per acre.
“Cedar is a big problem for producers, and it’s expensive to control and brings no financial return. It would be awesome if we could cut down cedar trees before they become a big problem,” Craige says.
“We brought cedar here, and it got out of control, kind of like kudzu in the South,” echoes Mike Buser, OSU ag engineer who oversees Craige’s project. “Just one cedar 12″ in diameter can draw 40 gal. of water per day.”
Craige aims to use an aerial-ground vehicle combination to cut down saplings (2″ to 4″ diameter): “If this functions properly,…