Brian Luck, Gary Roberson 2017-10-25 01:52:07
New challenges from a safety perspective Agricultural production is on the cusp of an exciting new era. Autonomous machines are at the forefront of research and development. The introduction of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS), also called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones, followed by the development of autonomous tractors for field operations and small autonomous robots for tasks such as input application or harvesting, will give farmers new tools to enhance production. In agriculture, sUAS usually carry a sensor payload to collect data on crop health during the growing season. They have also been used in grazing animal production systems for herd location and animal assessment, and they are being considered for low-volume aerial pesticide applications. Autonomous machines can reduce the need for skilled labor in agriculture and perform field operations within the available weather windows without human input. Data-driven agriculture has provided the motivation for the development of new sensors and other methods for assessing crop health, nutrient requirements, stress, and yield. Farmers and consultants are seeking new ways to collect crop data and implement management decisions in the most timely and efficient way. New tools, such as sUAS, can assist in this data collection process, and autonomous field machines will require vast amounts of data to precisely control what is done in the field, how it is accomplished, and when. In the near future, farmers could deploy a fleet of driverless tractors, all controlled by an operator with a tablet at the edge of the field or in the farm office. Hosts of small autonomous robots could swarm through the field, making pinpoint applications of nutrients or pesticides, removing weeds, and harvesting crops. While these advances will have significant impacts on production methods, some safety concerns must be addressed before widespread implementation. For example, what happens if autonomous sUAS control fails? What are the risks of property damage or injury if an sUAS crashes, or if an autonomous tractor or robot loses control in the field? What redundancies can be built into these machines to ensure safe failure modes? How can ASABE create standards that ensure the safety and reliability of autonomous machines? Insights into how we can safely implement sUAS and other autonomous machines can be gained from how the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has implemented rules for the use of sUAS in the national airspace. In 2016, the FAA released the Part 107 rules for commercial operation of sUAS. For use in agriculture, the Part 107 rules apply to any sUAS with a payload of less than 55 lb (25 kg) that is involved in measurement, visualization, input application, or any other task in crop or livestock production. The most significant aspect of these rules is the “remote pilot in command” license for commercial operation. This license requires that sUAS operators pass a written exam and prove sufficient understanding of how the national airspace works. This is a critical safety component of sUAS operation; avoiding manned aircraft begins with understanding the typical patterns and operation of manned aircraft. Other highlights of the Part 107 rules are: • Visual line-of-sight must be maintained at all times (a first-person view camera does not meet the “see and avoid” requirements). • Daylight-only operation and maximum altitude of 400 ft (122 m). • The sUAS platform must be registered with the FAA and have a tail number on the aircraft. • Violation of the rules can result in license suspension or significant fines (more information is available at www.faa.gov/uas). The Part 107 rulemaking process was conducted over several years, with input from interested groups in industry, government, and the public sector. The final version of the Part 107 rules did not achieve complete satisfaction for all the interested parties, but it provided a sufficient compromise so that new data collection tools could be used to their full potential. The major compromise in the Part 107 rules was the ability to have most of the restrictions waived based on an exemption application that demonstrates safe and reasonable operating parameters. In addition, while the Part 107 rules provide a consistent framework for the national airspace, many states have adopted their own regulations concerning sUAS. The challenges associated with safe operation of ground-based autonomous machines are different from those associated with sUAS operation, but they are no less significant. As the scope of unmanned vehicles expands to include ground-based autonomous machines, we will need to consider standard guidelines to ensure that these machines are safe. For example, how close should the operator be to an autonomous tractor? Should the operator be in the same field, or is it safe to control the vehicle remotely, such as from the farm office? What information needs to be transmitted from the vehicle to the operator to ensure safe operation? What type of data connection is needed to transmit this information reliably? Should autonomous machinery be limited to specific tasks based on the power requirements of the operation or potential environmental risks? Most importantly, what will the machine do if a critical failure is detected? ASABE has an opportunity to take the lead in developing industry standards and best practices for autonomous agricultural vehicles. These standards and practices will be the basis for future autonomous vehicle designs and will minimize the risk of accidents caused by autonomous machinery. The next step is the development of a working group consisting of researchers, safety engineers, and industry representatives to define safety protocols, system redundancies, and communication needs for autonomous vehicles. This process will also involve working with local, state, and federal government entities to identify concerns regarding transport, operation, and failure mitigation of autonomous field machines. Innovation provides solutions to problems and increases efficiency. However, innovation also creates a new set of challenges. That’s where we are with autonomous vehicles in agriculture. To ensure effective implementation, we need to focus not only on the capabilities of these machines but also on safe designs and safe operation. ASABE member Brian Luck, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, zdepartment of Biological Systems Engineering,, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, email@example.com. ASABE member Gary Roberson, P.E., Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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