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Precision farming low impact blimp tractor

Plant beans and pour water over them
(+5, -5)
  [vote for,

A new multifunctional tractor for hyper-precision agriculture.

The tractor is a helium blimp that carries a light-weight rack which can perform many different tasks: planting seeds, dropping a bit of fertilizer over them, weeding, herbicide applications, collecting soil and plant stress data, etc...

The machine is a non-flying blimp; however, the blimp element was chosen because this way you can make a machine that barely touches the soil, which prevent soil compaction.

It is intended for highly precise "digital", no-till agriculture.

-seeds are dropped into place via the pneumatic tubes (which can be retracted a bit), and the blimp, coupled to GPS and sensors, knows exactly where each seed is located

-later, when water or fertilizer is needed, it goes to the exact same spot and drops a tiny dose of it on the seed

-all this with minor interventions in the soil

-into the rack, camera's are embedded that take pictures of the plot, that can be used later for soil/plant growth/plant stress analysis.

-the inputs are fed to the machine automatically, in a distributed way (each little tube/container contains all inputs for a particular operation), before it is put in the field; this is needed to distribute the weight evenly over the surface area of the rack.

-buoyancy is controlled as in a regular blimp (tiny air pockets empty or get filled - we are only talking about maximum 1 or 2 tonnes of material carried by the blimp)

This machine could maybe cut input costs considerably (fertilizer, water, herbicide, etc...), reduce energy costs (gas, diesel), and reduce all types of negative effects of agriculture (excessive nitrogen, erosion due to soil-compaction which is normally remedied by heavy tilling, etc...).

The machine is ultra-light weight and operates fully automatically (first version perhaps remote controlled). The tiny wheels which guide it are preferrably electric-powered.

I made two pictures of it. Please compare them with heavy farm machinery (other pics).

We must now work on a harvester, the most difficult machine.

django, Feb 14 2008

Precision farming low-impact blimp tractor 1 http://i3.photobuck...er.jpg?t=1203016691
Looks a bit like a bug. [django, Feb 14 2008]

Precision farming low-impact blimp tractor 2 http://i3.photobuck...r1.jpg?t=1203016855
Carries everything it needs. [django, Feb 14 2008]

Look at all the steel and the wheels http://www.providen...ent/drill/drill.JPG
Maybe inefficient [django, Feb 14 2008]

(?) Large-scale blimp tractor http://www.worth100...is.asp?entry=187210
[wagster, Feb 16 2008, last modified Feb 17 2008]

Hauling logs with cable cranes http://www.fao.org/...chanical%20traction
Scroll down just a bit [django, Feb 16 2008]


       Your blimp is the most inefficient farming contraption here. Whats the lift capacity of your blimp? How many acres can it cover for a given application. Look at the cost of helium. Could this tractor operate on a windy day? Where would you store such a massive object. This idea has to many "maybes".
Antegrity, Feb 14 2008

       I think it would be easier to use more wheels, or tracks. I don't know how much a tractor weighs - maybe ten tons? So, give it a caterpillar track 8 feet wide and 30 feet long on each side. That's 480 square feet of track, or about 40 pounds per square foot.   

       A rabbit weighs about 2lb and has a combined pawprint of maybe 4 square inches, equating to 72lb per square square foot. Unless it hops.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 14 2008

       If you put mooring ropes on the blimp, then use them to drag the blimp back and forth, then get rid of the blimp, you've re-invented cable-traction farming.
baconbrain, Feb 14 2008

       I'll wait for [farmerjohn]'s opinion before I vote.
zeno, Feb 15 2008

       I believe you are neglecting the weight of the track system itself.
Antegrity, Feb 15 2008

       //a non-flying blimp//

angel, Feb 15 2008

       It will not work in Oklahoma, nor Kansas, nor Idaho, nor Texas, nor Colorado, nor New Mexico...it would always end up in the next two states over due to the wind. Assuming the machinery weghs in at about a conservative two thousand pounds and the seed, fertilizer, fuel, bug spray, operator etc weighs in at another few thousand pounds or more, my "Blimp" calculator says it will need to displace about 51,000 cubic feet if filled with hydrogen. The envelope weight must then be calculated too...probably at least a half ton or more, pushing the total displacement to about 63,000 cubic feet. The derigible shaped envelope would be 130 feet long by 30 feet in diameter...that's one huge tractor to get pushed around by the wind. And, even larger considering the weight of the engines and the electronics. Maintenance would be a night mare, not to mention the cost of the gas, which OSHA will require to be Helium. Initial filling would cost about $28,000.00 at present commercial rates. Also, there would have to be a farm storage tank of liquid helium to maintain the daily losses and a huge hangar to keep the thing in during the frequent wind storms and over the winter. You would probably do better with a helicopter/tractor....but, that is not going to be cheap either.   

       My solution to the ground pressure problem is to set in steel tracks, spaced about 30 feet apart, mounted on low concrete walls that also contain irrigation piping, fertilizer piping and insecticide spray systems. The the cultivating, planting and harvesting are all performed by track mounted equipment that never touches the soil and the walls help prevent erosion by both wind and rain. Expensive, yes...at installation...then the rest is (sc/on)just easy times, farming from the air conditioned home computer office.(sc/off)
Blisterbob, Feb 15 2008

       Props on the wind comment. Totally neat but unworkable idea.
WcW, Feb 16 2008

       I think that a farming operation that wanted such precision would probably be indoors - one of those giant hydroponic farms I understand mostly occupy the Canary Islands. I wonder if such farms use robots. They could be on a ceiling mounted track.
bungston, Feb 16 2008

       Shear genius, wind shear, that is.
4whom, Feb 16 2008

       //re-invented cable-traction farming//   

       I didn't know this existed. Do you have an example? Would like to find out more.   

       I agree with those who say the wind would blow the blimp away.   

       Anyways, it was just a HB idea, so we can afford to have a huge blimp getting ruptured, can't we? :-)
django, Feb 16 2008

       I imagine CT farming is like cable traction logging. Long cables would run across the field pulling the impliments back and forth allowing the power plant to remain in the headland and, I presume, use electrcity or other relativly imobile energy sources. Was this ever realized? It seems simple enough for crops that are grown in small plots and require many opperations. In a new digital age automation would make this even more practical. Damn HB magic!
WcW, Feb 16 2008

       Sure, that would be nice.   

       Cable-systems in forestry are very common, but also very straightforward: they just have to carry logs [see link].   

       I've never seen such a system work on a farm, though.   

       Even though it would be interesting to look at it.   

       It could operate like a laser-printer or a scanner, and then we would have a real type of "digital" agriculture - high precision.
django, Feb 16 2008

       Cable-traction ploughing was last used in the early 1900s. The "tractor" had a winch at the edge of the field, and only the plow went back and forth. How efficiently it worked I don't know--the cables had to be moved to the next row, and a muddy cable would be hard to work with. Two tractors and a lot of people?   

       I only know about it because of a long-ago discussion of the best way to use human power for cultivation. Somebody suggested dragging a plow with a cable, somebody else supplied an old article and a few pictures. (That was back when discussions took place in magazines, over the course of a year--cable farming seemed old THEN, alas.)   

       [Later] Google for "cable traction plough" and "ploughing engine" to learn more.
baconbrain, Feb 16 2008

       Cable-traction ploughing involved two traction engines - steam-powered tractors - which were able to divert the engine's drive to a large (~6' diameter) drum mounted horizontally under the frame. One was positioned each side of a field and a plough was attached to a chain or hawser. When one engine was winding the hawser to pull the plough across the field, the other was releasing more hawser. They would then drive forward one plough-width, turn the plough around, and the second engine would pull.
angel, Feb 17 2008

       Ten tons is a pretty high estimate unless you're talking about the biggest end of the range - the prairie schooners, as I call them. 400bhp, more displacement in the engine than in all the cars I've ever owned (combined!), and lots of very very big tires.   

       Most of the row crop tractors run about 6,000 to 15,000lbs - nothing skimpy to be sure. And the implements they drag around aren't light either.   

       When it comes time to hook up the backhoe and dig drainage ditches, exactly where does that bolt onto the blimp?
elhigh, Feb 25 2008


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