The Main Idea:

The main idea is to create a robot with a personality which can provide local (Pakistani) farmers with relevant information, in an easy to consume way, to improve their farming practices. In rural areas most farmers are illiterate which means that their ways of consuming information is limited. Over the years there have been many programs that utilized TV, radio and then SMS based technology to spread awareness. However these are all passive technologies. With an interactive robot we would like the farmer to have a way of asking questions or being able to have a one on one conversation. This of course would be using simple phrases, but at least it will address the issue of farmers asking the questions instead of just answers being broadcast to them.

Why the Robot:

There are many reasons why I chose to build a robot. One it is fun, two it requires skills in electronics, software, hardware, art and design and thirdly its very cool. Finally making a humanoid form would help in the interaction between the farmer and the machine. A robot with a personality is much more easier to interact with than a dumb screen. The personality in this case is specially important as in most rural areas of Pakistan and sub-continent countries every community has a community leader or elder who has significant influence. This elder is also called a Chaudhry.

The Technology:

The robot requires a number of technologies like computer vision, control, AI etc. The ideal hardware would have been a full scale PC. However the reason to choose the Raspberry PI as the core of the system is the ease with which it can be interfaced with hardware through its GPIO. Moreover it consumes less power, could easily run of a battery and has Linux. It also runs Python and I intend to build my system around Python and its great support for libraries.

Major Components:

Here are some of the major components of the system that I will implement.

  • Face Tracking with Pan/Tilt head movement
  • Proximity detection of a human
  • Speech output (Most probably in a local language like Urdu or Punjabi)
  • Over the air updates for information and audio visual announcements
  • Local weather sensing interface
  • The information display
    • Visual Components like weather, crop related information bar, other announcements.
    • Facial Expressions
  • Audio Input and speech recognition

Mobility or No Mobility:

One of the questions that I pondered with was to figure out whether the robot should have mobility or not. In rural areas where most agriculture of Pakistan takes place (in provinces like Sindh and Punjab) every area has a place (baithak) where the community people usually meet. This could be the perfect place for the robot. So it doesn't need mobility, in fact most people can come and interact with it. So a single robot could cater to a large community within a village.

The mechanics

I'm still working on this section and looking for ideas. Comments are welcome!