Two JKUAT Mechatronic Engineering finalist students emerged winners of the 2020 Imagine Cup European, Middle Eastern, and African (EMEA) regional final with their weeding bot innovation, bagging a cool USD 8,000 (Kshs. 828,000).
Michael Malombo Mwaisakenyi and Ken Kioria Gicira, dubbed the Knights, beat nine other students’ teams from across nine European, Middle Eastern, and African countries and will be joined by RedWalls from Tunisia at the Imagine World Championship at Microsoft Build, Seattle, Washington in May.
The Imagine Cup aims to inspire students to use their imagination and passion for technology to create innovative and inclusive projects that tackle some of the world’s biggest social, environmental, and health challenges. Taking on this challenge, The Knights, using Microsoft Azure, created an automated weeding bot to help farmers eliminate the need for herbicides in their crops.
Elated about the win, Michael said they are passionate about using technology to solve problems whilst still very fascinated with the technologies coming up every day.
“Technology has now evolved and there is an opportunity to eradicate weeds mechanically without the use of herbicides while still increasing crop yields and reducing environmental pollution caused by herbicides,” qualified Michael.
Michael observed that the award money will be key in further development of their innovation in a bid to enhance efficiency of weed eradication thus improving food security in the country.
“We are passionate about solving the issues of food production through technology because food is essential to life and food security is something that every human being should have,” said Michael.
The autonomous weeding bot, which was exhibited during the JKUAT Tech Expo 10.0, uses artificial intelligence to discriminate between weeds and crops through cameras as the sensors for getting input from the environment. The vehicle uses the cameras to navigate through the farm, in-between rows of crops together with a rotary encoder.
“It has employed a four-wheel drive and a four-wheel steering giving it flexibility to employ different and suitable steering strategies with much ease,” says Michael.
The innovation has a robotic arm for weeding in between the crop row and a plough-like weeding tool that is dragged by the robot as it passes in between the rows of crops to remove inter-row weeds.
According to The Knights, such competitions and challenges are vital in supporting young innovators to commercialise their innovations. Michael said, the Imagine Cup competition was an eye opener and was grateful for the mentors, and the pitching training accorded to them by the Microsoft team.
“The competition gave us an opportunity to use our creativity, passion and knowledge of technology to create an innovation that is beneficial to the local farmer.”