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product design and agtech

outerspace designs hardware that supports and integrates with farming technologies in harvesting, processing, livestock care and farm management. We work with electronic sensor, software and digital technologies to increase productivity in agriculture, with well-designed device and system hardware that protects, transports and stores new digital technologies, and provides farmers with reliable and trusted, product hardware interfaces.

making farm labour safer and less intensive

Horticultural harvesting processes can be dangerous and physically demanding, requiring a physically fit and skilled labour force. Manual harvesting can involve back-breaking tasks, that often involve the adept use of cutting blades and the manual operation of potentially dangerous equipment, fast moving carousels and moving vehicles. outerspace has worked with a corporate farm to assist in automation of ground crop harvesting in collaboration with their internal team.

New agricultural equipment and devices can be engineered to prevent injuries, removing the need for manual handling involving the use of knives in small spaces; repetitive strain injuries and spinal injuries – moving people out of these processes and into other activities that increase overall productivity.

Labour forces are dwindling in some farming sectors, with reliance in some areas on low-cost skilled imported labour. This reliance has been most recently highlighted during the Covid19 pandemic.

The outerspace team is developing horticultural processing and sorting equipment with agtech clients to make harvesting safer and less labour intensive. We are designing and developing sensor-driven farm equipment and robotic systems to improve productivity and support agribusinesses as they constantly adapt to local and export market demands.

Our engineering team is investigating how to automate the processes used in crop harvesting. Harvesting equipment is generally manually operated and purely mechanical in operation.  We are designing electronic adaption kits with sensors and ‘on farm’ robotics to indicate where a crop can be cut, the exact position to cut, control of drive lifters, and the safe transfer of a crop into the harvester.

designing a system for safe animal detection

We collaborated with the founders of startup, Out of Box Solutions, to develop and refine their animal detector system. The detector is a sophisticated IoT system, that identifies if an animal is a native species or an introduced feral pest. It’s designed for use in wildlife parks, remediated land areas and farming properties to record, detect and control feral, farm and native animals.

Feral animal control, management and the protection of native species is a priority for landowners and farmers. Globally, stock losses from feral animal attack amount to $100 billion per annum. In Australia, livestock losses amount to $700 million per annum.

Current feral animal controls involve vastly different methods involving excessive manual labour to set and check traps, at one end of the spectrum; and broad, indiscriminate techniques such as poisoning at the other.

outerspace designed a ruggedised, waterproof outer housing for the Out of Box Solutions detector system, and developed robust electronics, communication technology assemblies and power storage to withstand rough treatment in the field. With the ruggedised construction established, aspects of weight, size and ease of installation by a single operator, informed the design of the prototype.

The co-founders of Out of Box started their journey with an idea they conceptualised in a hackathon in 2017. Their idea was to use computer vision and edge processing to remotely monitor a farm with an actuator that triggers actions.

The initial focus was on biosecurity monitoring. After speaking with farmers and industry experts, the solution was refined to address the massive industry problems caused by invasive species.

Out of Box created a few variants of their solution to address different parts of the traditional control and conservation processes. They joined the Sproutx Agtech Accelerator in Melbourne in 2017.

The program provided a launch pad for their agtech journey facilitating meetings with farmers, conservation agencies, industry bodies and investors with program mentors providing critical feedback. Their initial Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was developed with funding support from Meat & Livestock Australia and Artesian Venture Capital.

engineering agtech products for volume production

Rubicon’s flume gates, control and meter the flow of irrigation water. Rubicon had successfully trialled their controller units in the field and needed to upgrade the design to make it ready for volume production.

We redesigned the gate controller housing and access system for mass production. The components were detailed for high-pressure die casting and extrusion, a step up from the low volume production made parts that Rubicon had used for their trials.

We engineered the flume gate controller to meet an IP66 waterproof rating or better, to prevent dust and water ingress, to dissipate heat, to support EMC suppression of radio emissions, and made sure all materials provided protection against the highly corrosive nature of the environment they operate in.

We detailed and engineered the mechanical system, integrating Rubicon’s electronic and display interface components. A cover plate provides total security and weather protection to the LCD screen and keypad interface. The lockable cover protects all components – the electronics, battery and fixing screws.

rugged hardware design for agtech

Agricultural products need to be rugged in design and engineered to withstand extremes in weather and constant rough treatment. Hardware and equipment can often be in direct contact with harmful chemicals, pesticides, fuel and other solutions.

The electronic interfaces and controls we design for agtech products need to withstand rough treatment and stay intuitive and easy to operate in the field. Hardware interfaces need to allow for finger or hand controls, may be remote controlled or fixed to a farm vehicle or machine.

We collaborated with Motium to update the design of a rugged touch panel personal computer for vehicles in rugged environments. Their TUFF Panel PC withstands extreme and rugged environments to an IP65 rating. The PC is installed in heavy duty work vehicles used in harsh conditions.

We engineered the new Motium TUFF Panel PC to be extremely tough with high level ingress protection from dust, water, extremes in temperature, continuous use, vibration and impact.

Agriculture and farming is undergoing significant change across the planet. Farmers have a deep affinity with their land and local environment. Sustainable farming techniques and the ongoing impacts of climate change are steering agriculture into new directions where product design and engineering can support and improve productivity for farmers.

As nations work to become more self-sufficient, they face changing export requirements, tariffs and regulations that impact on productivity and their bottom-line. New technologies, systems and hardware products are emerging in response to the emerging global challenges in agriculture and changing economic demands.

authors

David Menzies

Business Development and Commercialisation

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