Mechanical engineers collaborate in exploration of robotic options for farmers

Rosaire Bushey for Virginia Tech News:  Farmers are among America’s oldest workers.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2012 Census of Agriculture, in the past 30 years, the average age of U.S. farmers has grown from 50 years to 58 years old.

Two National Science Foundation grants of approximately $1.5 million, awarded to Virginia Tech researchers, will bring robotics and technology assistance to one of the largest groups of workers in Virginia. The research goal is to combine technologies to provide physical safety and enhance quality of life for Virginia farmers.

The first project partners with industry to use robotics to aid farmers with mobility impairments. The Partnership for Innovation grant is a collaborative effort between Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and with community partners, AgrAbility Virginia, a program that assists farmers with illnesses, injuries, or disabilities that are impeding their ability to work safely, effectively, and productively. The research will aid farmers through the use of wearable robotics, such as exosuits and other robotic apparatus, targeting back, knee, and hand applications.

The Research Coordination Network grant, the second project, is a collaboration with U.S. and international researchers to enhance technology on mid-sized farms.

Alexander Leonessa, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering is the principal investigator for the Partnership for Innovation grant and a co-investigator for Research Coordination Network grant. Leonessa is partnering with Virginia Tech colleagues Divya Srinivasan, assistant professor in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Kim Niewolny, associate professor in agricultural, leadership, and community education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, on both grants.  Full Article:

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