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Nathan
(@clbrz1678)
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Joined: 8 months ago
Posts: 3
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I'm Nathan and joined this forum to hopefully gain some insight and develop my knowledge of PI, Arduino, coding and the like.  Specific areas of interest are AI, Neural Networks, Deep Learning, sensor management with IOT, Raspberry PI AI, and many other ideas.  

In less than 2 years, I will be retiring from the US military and starting an apple orchard.  I want this venture to succeed and have spent the last 2-1/2 years researching every aspect of business and orchard management available.  One area I feel I need to improve is in the area of irrigation automation, field sensors and crop load management. 

The military has prepared me for some training in this area with advanced schools in computers, networking, electronics, communications, etc.,  I have a lot of experience with Java and VB, some C++, I've stuck my pinky in the water of Python, but really have no experience using Arduino IDE or applying any of this with Raspberry PI.  But with Arduino and Raspberry PI, and with plenty of encouragement and stick-n-rudder, I think I can design and install a IoT network of sensors (Irrometer Watermark soil moisture sensor with EMS SMX interface card, at the core) that in turn drive the irrigation system for precise water at the tree usage instead of water broadcast to the whole field.  This will save precious fresh water, minimize costs over the long run, and allow for targeted watering and fertilizer application for only the trees that are in need, thereby improving the crop yield and decreasing my time in the field.  

Another idea I'm toying with is to design and build an AI robot to navigate a field via GPS guidance and monitor the orchard.  Through deep learning, I would like to teach the robot to monitor the trees for the bloom cycle, documenting each tree and the blooms on each tree, where they are, the quality, the quantity and size.  Other things that I would want it to look for are diseases and pests infestations, using multi-spectrum cameras.  It could then flag the trouble branch, send an alert to my phone (via cell, WiFi or LoRa) and allow me to immediately intervene.  Lastly, it would monitor the fruit, count the fruit set (how many pollenated) and growth by constantly referencing the same fruit in the same location, and it could also monitor the ripening process by variety and report which rows are ripe and when to pick.  I hope to have this robot do all this so I can manage the orchard by myself.

And this is what has drawn me here to answer these questions.  Are my ideas possible?  Can all these things be done?  By me?  With my skills (more than the normal Joe, but far less than the professional computer coder)?  Am I biting off more than I can chew?  Would it just be better to hire a professional firm who may deliver a partial bag of my requirements, while costing thousands per year?  

Over the next two years, I hope to glean the knowledge to answer these questions and to identify the best way forward for me and my future business prospects...and in the end, increase my thirst for knowledge in electronics and computers!  So no matter what, I WIN!

Thank you for letting me join this forum and learn from the best!

Nathan


   
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Ron
 Ron
(@zander)
Father of a miniature Wookie
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 6482
 

@clbrz1678 WOW, very interesting. If I take what you say at face value, you will be at it a while. Some of us here have experience with garden monitors, but these are hobbyist parts not at all usable in a commercial environment. I think your best bet at this time is to make a list by priority. Do it several times to make sure you are sure of your needs. That will give you a better idea how long and how many $'s are needed. If you hire "pro's" it will be months to years and a few tens to hundreds of thousands. I used to bid on contracts like this frequently when I had my company so I think my estimates are reasonable.

Work on that priority list and come back to bounce it off all the grey heads here to gather feedback.

Good luck.

I tried your web site www.skagitvalleyorchard.com and it came up as a GoDaddy parked site.

First computer 1959. Retired from my own computer company 2004.
Hardware - Expert in 1401, and 360, fairly knowledge in PC plus numerous MPU's and MCU's
Major Languages - Machine language, 360 Macro Assembler, Intel Assembler, PLI/1, Pascal, C plus numerous job control and scripting languages.
Sure you can learn to be a programmer, it will take the same amount of time for me to learn to be a Doctor.


   
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robotBuilder
(@robotbuilder)
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Joined: 5 years ago
Posts: 2034
 

@clbrz1678 wrote:
"Are my ideas possible?"

Very much so and from what I have seen online much is commercially available for many of those goals.

Welcome to the forum and hopefully you might get some useful feedback on any electronics or programming projects you undertake.

A long time ago I used to work on the family citrus orchard so I have some idea of what is involved in growing fruit. Unfortunately overseas competition from company owned orchards with the economy of scale and cheap labor most of the family orchards ceased to be a worthwhile economical investment.

At the time I was very interested in electronics, computers, image processing and dreamed of building a machine to pick the fruit as labor was the major part of costs. Because I did a lot of the fruit picking myself I felt I had a good understanding of what was required to duplicate the speed and efficiency of a human fruit picker. Back in those days home computers were too slow and I was limited to theory with regards the visual processing part of such a machine. I used to grab images using a monochrome security camera which in those days used vidicon tubes!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_camera_tube

Maybe sometime in the future such picking machines may become a viable means of picking fruit like apples and as such I would think about trellising the apple trees. Good fortune with your adventure into becoming an orchardist.

 


   
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Inst-Tech
(@inst-tech)
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Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 538
 

Welcome to the forum @clbrz1678, Indeed all these things are possible, but time and money are the things that limit us to our pursuits of interest. You are correct though, that it's a win-win if you try to learn all these things, but are not able to accomplish them because of the afore mentioned limitations..even so, it is a worth while adventure to pursue one's dreams no matter what the outcome, as nothing is gained by not trying. I worked in industrial process control and automation for over 40 years, and learned that I still have a lot more to learn..lol

Enjoy your dreams, and again, welcome!

regards,

LouisR

LouisR


   
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THRandell
(@thrandell)
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Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 217
 

@clbrz1678

Hey Nathan,

   I was browsing r/robotics and noticed this post.  Maybe you should consider drones??

Tom

 

https://www.reddit.com/r/robotics/comments/14u1mji/drones_are_picking_apples_in_israel/

To err is human.
To really foul up, use a computer.


   
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Nathan
(@clbrz1678)
Member
Joined: 8 months ago
Posts: 3
Topic starter  

@Ron, thanks for the words of encouragement.  Yes, it will be a long road ahead, and most likely a something that a commercial enterprise would be trying to achieve, but I'll have something they won't have...retirement!  Looking forward to having the time to tinker with the design to get it to work.

@robotbuilder, looks like I'm about a decade-plus behind you in coming up with an idea.  My real desire is to automate the sensors and irrigation, the monitoring of the crop would be a plus.  

@Louis, again, thanks for the encouragement!  Already started winning (just found chatGPT...where has this been all my life)! 🙂

@Tom, I too found this product.  The Israelis have been on the leading edge with a lot of technology lately, but I can't afford it.  I think the starting point for this is well north of 7 figures!  Too rich for my blood and I don't need the self-picking process as I will only have 4 acres of trees in total.  But, if I can automate some things and help monitor for diseases and pests, then that is a plus!  Right now, I take just figuring out how to get my OLED to turn on! 🙂  But that's my problem to solve (not asking for help on this one, not yet at least).  

Again, thanks for the encouragement and I have already learned so much from reading all the posts here on the forum!  Getting smarter every day.

~Nathan


   
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Ron
 Ron
(@zander)
Father of a miniature Wookie
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 6482
 

@clbrz1678 4 acres, that's a nice size. How many trees in total, that gives us a start for rough sizing, IP assignment, miles of irrigation pipes and hoses etc. (might need x and y tree counts). Any existing irrigation pipes that can be used?

First computer 1959. Retired from my own computer company 2004.
Hardware - Expert in 1401, and 360, fairly knowledge in PC plus numerous MPU's and MCU's
Major Languages - Machine language, 360 Macro Assembler, Intel Assembler, PLI/1, Pascal, C plus numerous job control and scripting languages.
Sure you can learn to be a programmer, it will take the same amount of time for me to learn to be a Doctor.


   
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Nathan
(@clbrz1678)
Member
Joined: 8 months ago
Posts: 3
Topic starter  

@zander,

Initial install is 5100 trees, with total capacity of 6970 trees in 82 rows (each row between 120 and 200 feet long).  This is a new orchard and the land is currently being used as a hay field.  It has only been used to grow hay or pumpkins in the past, both that don't need water augmentation, so the irrigation will all be new install, and very costly!  Due to the Washington state prohibition on new wells (after 2013 due to Federal treaty with the First Nations of Puget Sound) I have to purchase my water from the city.  The city is restricting the size of my water meter to 1", so I have to be very smart about total length of the water run from meter to the last emitter (which right is approximately 600 feet, slowly decreasing in size from 1" to 1/4" drip), and I can't exceed the combination of pressure or gph for the meter (~2,200 gph).  This is why all the automation is so critical.  Every drop is not just critical to the tree, but it costs me a lot of money and I have limited resource to apply.  

Without using sensors to calculate required water, and going off the USDA standard of 1" of water per week per tree (measured as near surface area of the trees fibrous root ball, or about 3-4 ft diameter = 1.96 gal/tree/day).  However, because my low pressure sprinklers, although very efficient in water usage and placement, will still broadcast water outside of the actual rootball of the tree, I will need more than 2 gal/tree/day, unless I target apply based on need and used relay controlled ball valves to turn on a very limited number of emitters at a time to apply to only the trees that are in need based on the data from the sensor packs.  

This will increase the initial cost of install, add about 2x the cost in 1/2" polyethene pipe for the drip irrigation feed water, but should decrease the monthly water bill by about $500-750 during the summer months.  This cost savings will more than pay for the 24V ball valves ($32 each) and the relay banks ($44-90 for a bank of 16) and pipe ($110 for 1,000 ft).  The number of emitters will remain the same at 48 per row, a cost I cannot change.  

These sensor packages (as I'm calling them) right now will have at the core a ESP32-DevKitC board at the heart, powered by solar with battery backup from a Lithium battery controller.  I'm designing a PCB to hold all the components and fit inside a weather-proof electrical junction box that is IP67 rated and about 6x6x4.  This will have plenty of room for the components and (1 or 2) 10,000 mAh Lithium battery(s) (which may be needed for the weeks on end that the PNW can go without seeing any significant solar activity).  The sensors will be 3x Irrometer Watermark Soil Sensors with EME Systems SMX interface modules, 1x Irrometer 200TS Ground Thermometer, 1x SHT75JPG Air Temperature and Humidity Sensor, 1x Leaf Wetness Probe, 1x MicroSD datalogger, 1x 128x64 OLED, 1x 20-watt solar panel, batteries. 

I plan on using ESP-NOW many slaves to single master to get the data from the field to the water control shed, but if y'all have a better idea or recommend ditching the ESP32, I'm not tied to the card (it was one of the more inexpensive means with WiFi).

I'm building the proof of concept package right now, and working through the coding headaches, but with my new found friend, chatGPT, I'm succeeding more than failing!  Need to get back at the code fault isolation and correction.  This is the fun part, cause I get to learn what either the AI or I messed up and how to fix it.  

Again, thanks for the help and encouragement, back to troubleshooting my code

Nathan


   
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Ron
 Ron
(@zander)
Father of a miniature Wookie
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 6482
 

@clbrz1678 Random thoughts.

Ok, it sounds like you have a good handle on sizing.

Good idea to build a prototype.

The esp32 is quite capable.

I am still concerned with your lack of experience.

The climate future is a huge risk and there is nothing you can do about that in the short term at least.

I am not at all sure how you plan to gather solar energy in an orchard.

Keep in mind that DC does not like to travel very far so plan on converting to AC if longer runs of wire are needed.

I assume the esp-now will broadcast to a hard-wired node since the radios in an esp32 simply do not have sufficient power in worst-case scenarios. 

One specific item or two to consider is replacing any relays with MOSFETs, which are less likely to fail and consume less power. Related to that is the 24V component. If you plan on using a battery to operate that then you will either need a very large solar panel to get the charging voltage high enough or go smaller but then suffer losses in converting say 6V to 24V.

Do some real world testing of the range of a WiFi signal in a fully leafed-out orchard and a damp environment. Water is what kills the range of high-frequency radio signals whether it's in the air as humidity or in the leafs of plants.

ChatGPT is cute and can write poor code for trivial problems, but it is not capable of creating a complete system. Remember how it works. It is the infinite monkeys producing the great American novel scenario.

My experience includes:

I lived on a 50-acre fruit orchard many years ago so have an idea of the work involved in managing that. I have built a solar system with over 1kW of panels feeding a 7.2kWh battery bank feeding a 3kW inverter.

All the best

First computer 1959. Retired from my own computer company 2004.
Hardware - Expert in 1401, and 360, fairly knowledge in PC plus numerous MPU's and MCU's
Major Languages - Machine language, 360 Macro Assembler, Intel Assembler, PLI/1, Pascal, C plus numerous job control and scripting languages.
Sure you can learn to be a programmer, it will take the same amount of time for me to learn to be a Doctor.


   
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robotBuilder
(@robotbuilder)
Member
Joined: 5 years ago
Posts: 2034
 

@clbrz1678 

Only 4 acres amounts to a hobby farm not a viable business. Why apples?


   
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Ron
 Ron
(@zander)
Father of a miniature Wookie
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 6482
 

@robotbuilder He will have over 5,000 trees, that is NOT a hobby.

First computer 1959. Retired from my own computer company 2004.
Hardware - Expert in 1401, and 360, fairly knowledge in PC plus numerous MPU's and MCU's
Major Languages - Machine language, 360 Macro Assembler, Intel Assembler, PLI/1, Pascal, C plus numerous job control and scripting languages.
Sure you can learn to be a programmer, it will take the same amount of time for me to learn to be a Doctor.


   
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robotBuilder
(@robotbuilder)
Member
Joined: 5 years ago
Posts: 2034
 

Posted by: @zander

@robotbuilder He will have over 5,000 trees, that is NOT a hobby.

If you say so.  These forums are not about horticultural businesses so I won't ague about it. @clbrz1678 indicated he is doing the research so I can only wish his venture well.

 

 

 


   
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