University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher Arnold Schumann showed off a semiautonomous vehicle at the recent Citrus Research and Education Center 100th anniversary celebration. The vehicle is used in the center’s citrus under protective cover (CUPS) facility, designed to keep trees free of HLB-spreading psyllids. Schumann discusses the vehicle and its uses.
“We designed that vehicle that pulls the sprayer custom made for our CUPS, which has very narrow row spacing,” Schumann says. “And so the vehicle that we chose was a 48-inch-wide golf cart, second hand.” The cart was retrofitted to make it semiautonomous, meaning it can be driven remotely. It has no steering wheel, but does carry computers, and rear- and front-facing cameras for guidance and navigation. “We mostly use it with remote steering … You sit behind some computer screens with a steering apparatus, remotely, and you can drive it. It’s basically a drone.”
“The good thing about this as a spray-hauling vehicle is that it allows the driver to be far removed from any chemical sprays,” Schumann says. “The driver is sitting inside a room with air conditioning and totally safe. And the sprayer is out there without the driver sitting on it (the vehicle) … It’s about the safest you can get” for sprayer operation.
Schumann wants to ultimately make the vehicle fully autonomous so it can drive itself “and be a labor-saving device.”
While spraying is the vehicle’s main purpose, it can also pull harvesting trailers with three fully loaded bins, or about 3,000 pounds of fruit. More powerful versions of the vehicle could haul more fruit.
Schumann thinks the vehicle has commercial applications, especially in CUPS, where trees are planted at high density with narrow rows. While interest in Florida has come from growers with CUPS, Schumann says an outdoor citrus grower in Texas also has expressed interest.
Watch the vehicle in action.
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