Chris Lanno and Pete Naysmith at a Valiant TMS facility.

Supporting UWindsor Capstone Projects Series 2/3: Students Designed a Rover to Enhance Safety in Poultry Farming

In the Engineering degree program at the University of Windsor, final-year students partake in Capstone projects, which task them with addressing real-world problems using the theoretical knowledge they acquired throughout their undergraduate studies. Capstone is an excellent opportunity for students to integrate their classroom insights with practical expertise from internships and co-op experiences, enabling them to design innovative solutions in their respective disciplines. Their work is showcased during Demonstration Day at the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation.

Pete Naysmith, our Director of Service and Spare Parts, and the Valiant TMS team have been UWindsor Capstone Endowment Partners since 2015, providing essential support and guidance for many Capstone projects.

In our previous blog, we took you along Rocketry’s journey in UWindsor Capstone 2023 — check out the full story here in case you missed it. Today, we are excited to feature Rover for Chicken Deadstock Collection, another remarkable project sponsored by Valiant TMS this year.


Building a rover to detect and remove dead chickens from barns

Agriculture ranks as one of the most challenging industries for humans, often exposing farmers to various health hazards such as ammonia and particulate matter. Recognizing this, the Rover for Chicken Deadstock Collection team set out to develop a solution that not only frees farm workers from potential health hazards but also reduces operational costs. Consisting of seven engineering students from the electrical, mechanical, and environmental disciplines, the team designed and built a four-wheel rover with a front arm and a spacious hopper in the back for storage.

A rover that detects, retrieves, and disposes of dead chickens. Designed by University of Windsor Engineering students.
The remote-controlled rover that detects, retrieves, and disposes of dead chickens in barns.

The group was divided into three specialized sub-teams, each focused on an aspect of the rover’s design and functionality. The electrical sub-team was tasked with powering the rover, developing sensors and vision systems for chicken detection, and integrating the mechanical components. Meanwhile, the mechanical role was in charge of designing the rover’s drive train, the collection arm for deadstock retrieval, and an efficient storage system to simultaneously hold and dispose of items. The environmental engineering students were responsible for creating a comprehensive heat map and humidity map for the farm environment, as well as selecting the most suitable materials for the machine.

The rover was equipped with temperature monitoring and motion detection capabilities to identify chickens that were not moving or had below-average temperatures. If it were, in fact, deadstock, the rover would pick it up and store it in the back hopper until it reached capacity and needed to dispose of the contents. The rover’s advanced sensors were also programmed to sense the area’s temperature and commuting routes to detect potential water leaks.

A rover that detects, retrieves, and disposes of dead chickens in barns. Designed by University of Windsor Engineering students.
A close-up look at the collection arm and wiring of the roving machine.

“Chicken farms are usually densely populated. The one we looked at had about 30,000 chickens, and anywhere from 25 to 100 chickens could die during the day. The dead chickens can attract flies and whatnot, which can be a health hazard to livestock and humans on the farm,” said Chris Lanno, Electrical Engineering sub-team.


Close collaboration for success

The project took a total of six months, from conceptualization in January to presentation at the end of July. Unlike a few other recurring UWindsor Capstone teams, this project had never been done before, requiring the team to undergo a significant design phase for four months. After completing the design, they spent two months on the product’s construction, testing, prototyping, and implementation.

Since the team was multi-disciplinary, their biggest challenge was to connect all three majors and figure out the best way to work together. According to Lanno, communication was vital in combining different knowledge. “A significant challenge we encountered in the mechanical components was to connect seven motors and control them using a remote controller, so there was a lot of communicating between us and the mechanical engineers to get it to work. We attended all meetings, and sort of taught each other what we knew about our discipline. I learned a lot about mechanical engineering, while I’m sure they learned a lot about the electrical side, too,” said Lanno.

The group came to know Pete Naysmith, our Director of Service and Spare Parts, when they successfully got approval for funding from Valiant TMS. Naysmith also welcomed the students to our facilities and offered surplus components such as batteries, cabling, sensors, and SICK scanners for their project. “Pete actually gave money out of his own pocket to fund our project. Whenever we had questions, he would always answer them immediately. He also showed us some of the things being built when we visited two of your facilities, which was really insightful,” Lanno shared.

The project garnered immense interest during Demonstration Day at the University of Windsor. As the team was featured on the radio that morning, attendees came to hear their presentation as soon as they heard the project’s name. The team had 11 professors assess them that day, compared to typically three or four for most other groups. All professors were astonished by the project’s comprehensive journey, from its inception and thorough research to the final build.

All team members in the Rover for Chicken Deadstock Collection Capstone team.
The team at Demonstration Day. From left to right: Andrei Teodorof, Nolan Soulliere, Braydon Wharram, Eric Jonathan, Chris Lanno, Jacqueline Malik, and Matt Dantas.

“What differentiates this group from other Capstone teams is that they worked on a new problem that had never been researched at the university, while most other teams continued with last year’s project. This has been an existing issue in the food industry for a long time, and with chicken being one of the most eaten foods in the world, they had to think of how to use engineering to address it. I think it’s exciting for the university to take on an agriculture project like this for the first time, and the team did very well,” said Pete Naysmith, Director of Service and Spare Parts at Valiant TMS.


Benefits of having an industrial advisor in UWindsor Capstone projects

According to Lanno, Naysmith’s guidance was invaluable in their Capstone project. Since everything they learned was theoretical and lacked hands-on experience, coming to a manufacturing facility and seeing the machinery helped bridge the gap significantly. “Especially during two years of COVID when we weren’t even physically in school, we couldn’t see much of the stuff we were working with. We learned a lot about math and science, but not so much about the mechanical aspect of it and how to get things to work. Having access to Pete’s knowledge was very helpful that way — there were things that we would have had to research for weeks, and he just knew it off the top of his head. We were using some technology from previous years, and he advised us on a better approach since he has more up-to-date knowledge,” said Lanno.

Chris Lanno and Pete Naysmith at a Valiant TMS facility.
Chris Lanno and Pete Naysmith at a Valiant TMS facility.

Moreover, Pete Naysmith’s presence during Demonstration Day substantially improved the project’s visibility. Leveraging his esteemed standing within the industry, Naysmith’s engagement enabled the team to attract more attention and make valuable connections at the event.


Automation paves the way for sustainable farming

While the machine is currently reusable, Lanno believes it would still need further refinement to be a practical product in real-world applications. Looking ahead, the team envisions achieving full autonomy for the rover, where it can go into barns to collect deadstock, notify farmers of the total collection, and self-recharge. This advanced feature would protect farmers from harmful environments and mitigate environmental issues.

Lanno expressed deep gratitude to Pete Naysmith and the Valiant TMS team for the support they received throughout the project. “Pete was definitely the front-runner, but we would like to thank the company for everything you have done to help us, from supplying parts to providing the expertise we wouldn’t have found, no matter how much research we did. It was much appreciated”.

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