Spring 2018 – 497-237: Applying Robotics to Vertical Farming

CRN
27783
Meeting Days/Time
Wednesdays from 6:25 to 9:05 pm
Instructor(s)
Blake Davis (INTM) (davisbl@iit.edu) and Hans Mickelson (Undergraduate Education -- User-Centered Design) (hmickelson@gmail.com)
Appropriate Disciplines
All interested students are welcome
Category
Technological Innovation

People are too big and they take up too much space, at least in a vertical farm. You have to leave a minimum of 2 feet between plant racks to allow a standing worker to maintenance plants and more if they need to work on a lift which is often necessary on very tall racks. The racks can’t be more than four feet wide because a worker can’t work effectively any further in than about two feet from either side. So, at most, only about 50 percent of the space is occupied by plants. The rest of the space is circulation space for the people working on the plants. All that “wasted” space is being lighted, heated and cooled, and humidified or dehumidified. Plus you are paying rent for all that space as well.

In addition, vertical farms operate at least 16 hours a day, and some for 24 hours a day. This means that each vertical farm must have at least two shifts of workers. These workers come in every day from the outside world and can bring diseases or pests with them. Good plant sanitation is difficult under these circumstances.

Vertical farms operate on small margins. If you could use robots to do most of the plant maintenance, you could redesign the racks, and the spaces that they occupy. This would allow you to actually grow plants in most of the space, increasing profitability of the vertical farms.

The goal of this IPRO project is to analyze the feasibility of using robots for plant maintenance. These maintenance tasks will include planting, watering, fertilizing, pruning, and possibly harvesting plants in the vertical farm. Redesigning the racks and the vertical farming facilities to employ robots should increase the floor space available for growing plants and reduce the cost for growing them.

The approach to this IPRO project will be to see how existing facilities work and develop the requirements and specifications for what robots must do to replace current labor. The next step will be to create conceptual designs of robotic systems that meet those program requirements. Finally, the IPRO team will create an economic analysis of whether robotic farming facilities have the potential to reduce costs for vertical farm operators.

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