Farmer and 8-year-old son build clever bird-scaring robot

A clever bird-scaring robot capable of roving oilseed rape fields autonomously to keep them pigeon-free has been developed by Cambridgeshire farmer Will Mumford.

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Mr Mumford, who also owns guidance specialist AS Communications, came up with the idea together with Mark Leaman at Niab.

The pair concluded that using a constantly moving deterrent would be more effective than stationary gas guns or kites.

The eight-week project to build the “Ro-Bert” began in Mr Mumford’s farm workshop over Christmas to give him and his eight-year-old son, Robert, a break from the tedium of lockdown.

They made a frame from 40x40mm box section and used a large combine battery to power two 12V, 400w motors – one for each of the driven wheels.

Eight-year-old Robert Mumford helped with the build © Will Mumford

The differential steering system is akin to that of a rape swather and the wheels were a £30 buy from eBay, having started life on a rotavator.

Autonomy comes by way of a spare Trimble receiver – one of the perks of running a precision-farming company – which Mr Mumford paired with an Arduino computer.

This was selected for its many inputs and outputs that would allow multiple operations to be performed, but the open-source software required a fair bit of work to programme, he says.

In practice, the machine’s daylight sensor fires up the GPS unit, initiating the robot to move around the field via a series of pre-programmed waypoints.

As a bit of fun, the figure of a man mounted on the top of Ro-Bert lifts his gun for visual effect, before lowering it and moving to the next point. The whole lot then shuts down when darkness falls.

Mr Mumford toyed with adding a bang as well, but decided not to overcomplicate his first attempt.

However he says the small computer offers a raft of possibilities, including programming Ro-Bert to make its way to the headland an hour before the sprayer arrives or negotiate gateways to reach neighbouring fields.

Mr Mumford reckons it cost £400 to build, excluding the GPS kit. He has been surprised with how well it worked on his 40ha of oilseed rape – so much so that he has had to move it to another field.