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Field Robot 2009

competition of robots in maize field

In order to extend our robotic horizons we participated in Field Robot Event (FRE) contest. The motivation for this contest is automated agricultural machinery. There are four categories/tasks: navigation (pass through curved rows of maize), advanced navigation (extra transitions between straight rows of various length), weed control (spay randomly dropped green golf balls/weeds in the row as precise as possible) and free-style (show something interesting related to agriculture topic).

Eduro Team FRE2009:

  • Jan Roubíček — mechanics
  • Tomáš Roubíček — electronics
  • Jiří Iša — software, image processing
  • Martin Dlouhý — software, integration
  • Kamil Řezáč — photographer, documentation
  • Romana Zemanová — PR, support

1st Day

On July 6th 2009, we are coming to a little town Wageningen, place of the contest. We are full touristic experiences of five days travel. The rest of our team is still on the way from Czech Republic with two hours remaining behind their steering wheel. So we are searching for Technotron building and register Eduro Team. Surprise number one - instead of expected dormitories, „low-cost accommodation” is a local sport hall. Moreover we have to pack every morning because the hall is used normally during the day.
While switching car into terrain mode (short prayer for the undercarriage) we are coming across a ditch and meadows to contest area. There are two fields in reality: the first is the official contest field (fenced and guarded), the second is the field for testing (praise organizers ). Unfortunately there are no 50m long rows we expected, they are only approximately 15m long.
There are several teams already testing — they are trying to understand what is going on and they are hopelessly running around their robots and vandalize the maize. We are taking over the last power plug and waiting for others. In mean time organizers are building tents and bringing benches and tables. We finally see Martin's Fabia on the horizon. According to the latest news nothing is working properly, so quick unpack and start to work.
The number of teams is increasing as well as the number of working robots. There are few drops from the sky, omen of future events. During the day we are fighting with some problems with Wi-Fi on our robot Explorer, but in the evening we can finally see the first successful pass of one row.
The sky is getting darker and darker, so we pack and move to sport center. The first emissary Jirka tries to investigate our accommodation. He is reporting back shortly that nobody knows anything and that they do not let us in the sport hall. We are not giving up and we send tender 1/6th of our team. She is returning with the key from a dressing room (hurray, we will avoid groups in the gymnastic hall).
We move our stuff and outside the prize downpour starts. The keeper comes, to avoid boredom, and moves us to conference room — the dressing room will be under reconstruction the next morning, he says. The conference room is warm, bad smelly from some glue, but we are very tired so shortly all of us fall asleep.

2nd Day

The second day we return back to competition area, we see that from approximately ten party tents only two remained. The rest was gone with wind (we do not expect foray of plundering clans). The sky is getting darker again and weather forecast shows that the roof above our heads will be more than necessary. While we are testing, organizers somehow manage by magic to get new tents. There are also more switchboards, but they are mostly taken by audio system. Unfortunately this is means that sometimes somebody cuts the power without warning. Surely timing is perfect so we lost power when we were flashing motor controller to make the robot be more suitable for rough terrain conditions…
For breakfast we got paper bag with a bun with cheese, a bun with salami, a sweet ban and milk. Not bad.
After briefing of team leaders, we learn schedule and judge criteria. Surprisingly it is possible to get the same amount of points for „smoothness” (points from judges) as for the unbiased performance. Moreover system of penalty points gives clear winning strategy — take a robot armful and run the track with it. Well, we will see …
There is ongoing show of „big robots” on the next meadow. You could see modified tractor, adjusted lawn mower Spider, all-directional constructions etc. The tractor is driving the best, but it does not gain any audience - it looks like tractor, drives likes tractor, so what? It is hard life of working machines.
During the day, the Mother Nature does not spare water. So once a while there are from ten to fifteen spectators under our 2 by 2 meters tent. They are mostly people form agriculture conference, which is running in parallel with the contest.
For lunch we got paper bag. There is, for a change, a ban with cheese, a ban with salami, a sweet ban and juice. We start to sniff and hope, that there will be no paper bag for evening barbecue. Hope dies last.
The start of competition is postponed several times due to rain. Finally, organizers operatively change the program and start with the last discipline (weed control). The contest is taken in a hall under bad light conditions and among artificial flowers. Most of the teams are using camera for ball detection, some of them even used color of chlorophyll for calibration, so you can imagine happiness without limits.
The results meet expectations. We are the only ones who drove the row without touching the plants. The others cut the artificial flowers as this is the main goal in the rules specification. Detection of balls practically does not work at all. So although we do not have any spraying mechanism, it is not a big handicap.
In mean time the weather is getting better and the contest returns back to outside. Our robot is driving more or less with assurance, and for given time limit (3 minutes) we complete one row only. This is true also in a real contest run during the navigation task. Again as one of few we drove without touching the robot (there is 5m penalty). The others mostly straighten up their robots, and instead of autonomous turning to the next row they are moved manually in most cases.
The rows for advanced navigation are shorter. Now everybody tensely waits if our robot will turn by itself or will be manually moved (b/ is correct). Most of the teams again carry their robots, and some carries even do not know how to count correct number of rows. Their meters are regardless count and even the evaluation from jury is surprisingly high. It looks like the main criteria for „smoothness” is correlation between university sponsors. Uh-oh…
The podium is getting full and it is time for the last task. During the day somebody mentioned that we could show our waterproofing robot, but we decide not to push the luck and skip this task (it does not count in the total score anyway). You could see maize demolition, pull of water pipe or switch of some motor parts. In general all demonstrations look clap up — teams focused on competitions tasks mainly.
There are no partial results available (gained points, driven meters, etc.), which is a bad surprise for us. The time delay was overcome, and the announcement of results is only a half an hour later than planned (the contest started three hours late). The first places belong to home and well sponsored teams. It seems to me strange (and sad), that to some teams audience does practically not applaud …
Celebratory grilling is managed interestingly — everybody gets some pieces of raw meat and sausages, and grills it yourself. Drinks are based on token system. Not far away sits a group of Czech delegates of conference, drink „slivovice” and prepare plans of domination of something.
Back in sport hall we find out, that this time we will not avoid the gymnasium. We are the first there, so we take over terraces. Later on there is a German group coming from grill party, expertly pull the matrices and make noise long night.

3rd Day

We pack and go to breakfast. For breakfast we got (try to guess, it is not so difficult). Oh well …
Today are a workshop and a final launch on program. It looks like most of the teams already left (approx half of the teams are on workshop). Moreover, only the top five teams have the opportunity to present their solutions. We try to distribute some Robotour leaflets but response is rather half-hearted.
Lunch is in the main building where conference takes place. The catering lady looks bitterly at us — we do not have suits and maybe even our smell is not appropriate. The soup is gone, so the main course is bans with something. De-ja-vu.
We say goodbye, and Martin with Roubíček's is returning back to Czech Republic. We continue in our vacation program. We have seen the contest, collected some data and contacts, but the execution of the competition somehow did not fully satisfy us especially when we take into account that it was the 7th year.

If you are interested in this contest and plan to participate next year in Germany or just write a comment to this article let us know.