Corder's Corner

Farm Safety: The Grain Weevil

A robot that does the same work as a farmer with a shovel in a bin?! This innovative robot was created as a challenge from one friend, a farmer, to another, an engineer. The farmer asked his friend to build a robot so that he and his kids would never have to go into a grain bin again. Challenge accepted! Chad and Ben Johnson, a father and son duo, did just that.

Farming and ranching are two of the leading industries in the states that Corder and Associates serve for real estate. It’s hard to find a local that hasn’t crawled into a wickedly hot grain bin and swept out rotten grain infused with mice droppings and nests. It becomes dangerous when farmers managing their stored grain are at risk for falls, entrapments, auger entanglements, and long-term conditions such as Farmer’s Lung. A farmer takes these risks over 6 million times in a year. Across America, there are over 450,000 farms with grain bins to tend. On average, there are nearly 25 entrapment deaths a year. In as little as 20 seconds, a person can become completely submerged in grain or corn. These are tragic statistics. What’s worse is that everyone in the industry knows someone who’s been affected by such a tragedy. Sadly, 1 out of every 5 grain bin accidents are teenage boys, and 7% of US farmers show signs and symptoms of Farmer’s Lung Disease.

Chad and Ben Johnson of Omaha, Nebraska, restore hope in creating a robot whose main goal is to keep boots out of bins. In addition to contributing to efficiency, the Grain Weevil robot is a small, portable robot that weighs between 40 and 50 pounds. It has a 5 to 6-horsepower electric drive train. It’s designed with an auger propulsion system that utilizes gravity to maneuver and manipulate grain in the bin. The robot levels the grain, breaks up crust and clumps, and even aerates wet grain. “Pretty much anything that you would need to do with a shovel inside of a grain bin is what the robot can actually do,” Johnson said. “Right now, the robot can level a 48-foot grain bin in around the same time as a human, which seems pretty amazing.” One of the biggest challenges the team has faced alongside the harsh environment for electronics is software. One thing a farmer does not have is time to sit and drive a robot around in a grain bin for several hours. The creators are working to make the Grain Weevil completely autonomous, where it can be checked from your phone and avoid obstacles in the bin like cable sensors and such. It uses a winching docking station to ascend the grain bin. A farmer can set it near the grain bin and let ‘er rip! Via an app, the farmer can check in periodically. The robot even charges itself in between projects! In twenty minutes, the robot can restore a full charge. It doesn’t seem likely that one size fits all, right? There are different crop sizes. Would you need different robots or augers? “In reality, for the robot, we’ve done corn, soybeans, popcorn, white corn, hard yellow peas, milo, wheat, white northern beans, and it makes absolutely no difference,” Johnson said. “There are some operational things like you want to slow down the RPM in rice. You want to run faster in soybeans, so the robot’s operation changes a bit per grain. But the actual robot itself has had no problems on any different grain types.”

I feel so inspired by this cutting-edge technology. The Grain Weevil isn’t quite ready for the market yet, but the team is excited about creating positive changes in how people manage grain bins. One accident in the grain bin is one too many. Reading this start-up story has me reeling on what this robot can do. I love that an engineer listens to a farmer and helps solve a real-life issue to make an occupation safer and more efficient. I couldn’t even cover everything this robot can accomplish, but I see its future and can’t wait to see the difference it makes in keeping our farmers safe and out of the bins.

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