Robotics in MechSE: Harry Dankowicz
Efficient planting is crucial to large-scale farming operations. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, MechSE professor Harry Dankowicz is working to develop an autonomous robotic vehicle that limits planting interruptions by streamlining the refilling of seed tanks. Typically, farmers need to stop planting and meet up with another truck to manually refill tanks. The proposed seed-refilling vehicle autonomously knows when a seed tank is running low, finds it in the field, and fills the tank while the planter is still moving. Dankowicz is focusing on the dynamics of the robotic arm and design of the seed-transfer mechanism that docks with the tank while both the planter and robotic vehicle are in motion. “Compared to rovers used for planetary exploration,” Dankowicz said, “our robotic design must be able to control the manipulator dynamics during travel, as the rover moves across a large agricultural field at a fast clip.” With appropriate scheduling, a single refilling vehicle could be used to service several parallel planting operations. Dankowicz added that similar robotic service vehicles could be used to further automate farmers’ existing practices while giving them precise information about the status of their crops, fields, and farm equipment.
Robotics in MechSE
One of the world’s fastest-growing fields, robotics is a highly interdisciplinary branch of engineering and science that includes electrical engineering, computer science, and of course mechanical engineering, among many other concentrations. Advances in robotic technologies are hurtling forward as rapidly as their fields of implementation are expanding. And many of the challenges in robotics lie not only in making breakthrough developments, but in finding ways to make them affordable for widespread use throughout society.
Robotics is a growing field within the MechSE Department as well. New professors who predominantly study robotics have been hired in recent years. Many tenured faculty also have steered their research toward robotic technologies or have discovered uses for robotics in their existing work. This section provides a look at some of the robotics research and applications currently undertaken in MechSE.