The Team members

Leon Andrec, 23, Zagreb University of Applied Sciences, Undergraduate Professional Study In Mechatronics

Milivoj Bošnjak, 21,  Zagreb University of Applied Sciences, Undergraduate Professional Study In Mechatronics

First of all, congrats on being one of the winning Teams again!

You have taken third place in the European Student Challenge with your idea „Crop Shepherd“. What is your Project about? How did you come up with the Name?

Thank you, we are grateful for having a place on the throne!

We are developing an autonomous laser weed-killing robot that will be used by organic and conventional farmers to replace back-breaking weeding work. This robot will allow farmers to plant more of high-value, labor-intensive crops such as butternut pumpkins, sweet potatoes, hemp and leafy greens. The name „Crop Shepherd“ describes the relationship between the robot, and the precious crops that it is protecting from pesky weeds.

How exactly does it work? How is it built, what is the laser attached to? I am imagining some kind of vehicle.

Yes exactly. We have put great effort into developing a very capable robotic platform that is powered by rechargeable batteries and solar panels. It has four wheels with independent steering, and a 4×4 electric drive as well as a suspension that passively adapts to uneven terrain.

Are there any limitations to the robot? Anything you are still struggling to work out or are looking to improve? How much ground can one of these robots cover in a certain time frame?

Because the robot is quite small and the wheel spacing is only about 60 cm, the robot can not work on crops that are taller than 30cm. We will, off course, work to increase the ground clearance in the future. But the benefit of such a small robot is that it can be useful even for small farmers who work on 1 hectare of land.

Using a laser to destroy weeds carries many advantages such as no soil disturbance and working very precisely near planted crops, but also many drawbacks such as a certain time necessary to kill weeds one by one. This drawback is lessened when the targeted weeds are very small, no older than one week. This means that the robot will work on the field non-stop, for as long as necessary, covering 1 hectare of land once every week.

What about production cost?

This project was started in July 2019, so we are still in an early development stage. So far, we’ve built two prototypes. It is hard to tell what the final cost will be, but we hope to keep it under €5000 for the honest German farmer.

Your idea seems to be pretty thought through. What has your experience with your mentor been like? How have you benefitted from the collaboration or what was especially helpful to you?

Yes, there has been a lot of thinking going on, especially because we are riding on the edge of feasibility. But with the core principles proven we are certain we will make this work. Farmers can already leave their e-mail on our website if they want to know when pre-orders become available. We feel a lot of gratitude towards our mentor. She has challenged our viewpoints, pointed out possible improvements and has been a great cheerleader for us.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced during the whole process?

This project was started as a minor student competition in Croatia and although we were awarded and received praise, it was very difficult to transition the mindset of the team from a fun engineering competition to building a serious high-tech company. We are so happy to have made it at all.

What would you say is the most valuable thing you have learned from taking part in this challenge?

I think this is a very personal lesson: Only when you start working on your biggest dreams, you come to fully realise your potential!

One last question: What is the first thing you’re going to spend the prize money on? 😀

We talked about the name „Crop Shepherd“– we will try our best to obtain a trademark protection for this name.

Thank you to Team Crop Shepherd for their time and the insightful answers!