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Redclaw Crayfish Aquaculture Feeder

I am in the process of building an autonomous rover to carry out feeding on a crayfish farm.
Redclaw are an Australian native freshwater crayfish that I farmed in southern Queensland for the last 20 years.
Farming is done in purpose built freshwater ponds normally about 50 metres by 20 metres.
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Feeding is carried out several times per week. The feed is a pelletised grain mixture and distributed over the surface of the pond.
Over the years I developed a feeder inside a small delivery van which we drove around the ponds. A computer and metering system is used to control the quantity of pellets distributed to each pond. This varies depending on the level of stock in the ponds, stage of the growth cycle, etc.
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A colleague in north Queensland while unashamedly stealing my design for his own feeder enthusiastically agreed with my suggestion that a fully autonomous feeder would be much more fun.
My colleague has changed the distribution mechanism from a blower arrangement to an electric spinner and has set up the feeder on the back of a golf buggy. A GPS has also been integrated to automatically start and stop the feeding sequences. The driver behind these changes was to prepare for an autonomous feeder.


Being totally ignorant of autonomous vehicles our initial test was to temporarily fit a Pixhawk to one of my RC cars using cable ties and bits of string. Being amazed at what could be achieved so cheaply and simply gave us enough encouragement to push on - albeit very slowly.
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More recently we have purchased a small motorised golf bag carrier and modified it as our prototype. I have fitted a Pixhawk, Pololu Simple Motor controller 18V15 to control the motors, URM09 Analog Ultrasonic Sensor and 4 servos to allow simulation of the feeder motors. I have set up a Raspberry Pi as a companion computer but have not used it except for testing the Mavproxy communication.
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I have managed to get this running OK within the limitations of the Ublox Neo-m8n GPS.
A rough video of an early successful test run on youtube:


We have also purchased the wreck of a Hustler “Fastrack” zero turn mower. I have stripped it down to the bare chassis and am in the process of fitting a hybrid stepper motor/gearbox to each wheel.
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At the North Queensland farm we have established a Polaris RTK GPS with our own base station and have integrated it into the existing feed distribution program.
A natural advantage we have is that it is very unlikely that people or animals will be inside the pond area. Secondly the feeding is not a critical activity that must be completed on time allowing us to just stop the feeder if anything goes amiss.
A big disadvantage is that any small navigation error will have the feeder underwater.
To be continued………………
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Great progress! I’ve often thought that ArduPilot (Rover/Boat) would be good for providing feed on oyster farms so this is a bit similar.

Looking forward to hearing more about your progress and feel free to ping me if you hit issues. Also feel free to set the category to “Blog” on your next post so it appears on the front page of AP. Really great!

Thanks Randy, all and any words of encouragement are much appreciated.
We feel there are a number of aquaculture sectors (and some non-aquaculture) that would benefit from a similar approach and would dearly like to see our efforts be a catalyst for others.

I have added the latest trial run on youtube:

This is the last of my trial runs on the football field. I am shipping the prototype to the north Queensland farm and traveling up there mid-January. We will fit the RTK GPS and give it a run around the ponds - hopefully without getting it wet!

Meanwhile I have completed the deconstruction of our zero turn mower:

Deconstructed

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Hey bill, if you find yourself in need of some in-depth assistance from an ArduPilot developer who happens to also be based in Queensland( i’m normally Based in Brisbane), that’s me, so feel free to get in touch.
Your rover project looks looks about as finished as my current project… a lawn mower based on bits from a wheelchair. david / buzz. https://ardupilot.org/plane/docs/common-commercial-support.html

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Hi David, thanks heaps for the contact. It is great to have an offer of assistance so close.
As you can see we are still experimenting with and learning the basics. However, we have much grander plans/dreams that will undoubtedly test us beyond our limits.

Our current plan is for me to take the converted zero turn mower to the NQ farm mid-April. It needs to be mobile and tested in a basic form by then - ie to the current stage of our prototype - which has me both nervous and excited. In the meantime the plan is for my NQ colleague to use the prototype to start with the development of the mission control software running on the companion computer and integrating the operation into his network.

It is when we get the zero turn to the farm and start to extend its capability that we may need help with the development. I would like to keep in close contact so that we can compare notes and build on our experiences.

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Im available at davidbuzz@gmail.com for when u need it.

Servers by jDrones