Articles, Blog

Moving to an autonomous irrigation system


Imagine an irrigation system that requires no human input, a precision autonomous irrigation system. Dr Joe Foley, Senior Research Fellow from the University of Southern Queensland and
his team are working on just this. The Carolans at Waverley, Wee Waa, have recently
installed a small pipe system that is automatically (or remotely) controlled.
Joe and his team will take this automated layout to the next step, an autonomous system,
similar to an automatic pilot in an aircraft, although in this case Joe is moving water
not aircraft. What we are doing is moving on from the good
automated control where people can remotely control their irrigation systems with their
siphons over the phone, with their iPad or PC, and move onto a system that is actually
controlling all of the processes that a good irrigation manager would normally do
So that system effectively takes sensor data from the field, communicates it through to
a decision making system and then actually sends signals back to open the gate, shut
a gate, turn the revs up on the pump, to fill a channel further and then stop the whole
system. The aim of the project for us is to build
towards that autonomous system and to engage with the good team here at Waverley with their
existing good automation to build this confidence in the sensing technology, interact with them
to have them understand how this autonomous or autopilot system would be able to handle
the control of full irrigation procedures. The real benefits of an autonomous system
over an automated system (which effectively a remote controlled system), the benefit of
the autonomous system is to be able to give those good irrigation managers a bit of a
break on occasions. But more importantly really greatly assist
those time poor irrigation managers in making those good irrigation decisions to really assist them to have that irrigation performance improvement
locked in with the technology. Automation of furrow irrigation and bay irrigation,
I believe is the future of surface irrigation. And surface irrigation is here to stay because
that’s the best way of irrigating heavy soils. What about the cost? Can the industry bear the cost, or will they bear the cost for the improvements? Well to be objective about it you need to compare the cost of going to an automated
furrow vs going to drip or lateral move, and it’s significantly cheaper because you are
utilising existing infrastructure and you are just adding on an alternative to starting
furrows. Autonomous thinking is long term. The USQ
research team will take their partners on a journey towards implementation of an autonomous
irrigation system. Working alongside USQ will provide them with assurance about the sensors
used, the capacity and the capabilities of the system. The Waverley team are engaged
and looking to the future.

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