Nebraska ag start-up aims to keep farmers out of grain bins

Nebraska ag start-up aims to keep farmers out of grain bins
Nebraska ag start-up aims to keep farmers out of grain bins(Ellis Wiltsey)
Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 6:34 PM CDT
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AURORA, Neb. (KOLN) - It’s a tragic reality in the world of farming: getting trapped or even dying while working in grain bins.

It happens to dozens of people a year and a Nebraska agriculture start-up’s mission is to keep workers out of the bins entirely.

Last year, Nebraska had the fourth-highest number of agricultural confined space incidents in the U.S.

According to data from Purdue University, of the 64 across the U.S. in 2020, 35 involved grain bins. Of those 35, 20 people died.

It’s a number the inventors of the Grain Weevil want to be zero.

“A grain bin safety and management robot,” said Ben Johnson, a co-founder. “We are on a mission to keep farmers out of the grain bin.”

The Grain Weevil’s main purpose is to level grain bins, but it can also be used for smaller maintenance tasks as well. It was actually born out of a challenge from a farmer friend of the company.

“He saw a couple of robots that we had been building a couple of years ago for fun and he said if you can build that you can build me a robot to stay out of a grain bin,” Ben said.

Tasks inside of grain bins can subject people to less than ideal and in some cases deadly conditions as they work for hours to get them done.

“Most people realize a grain bin is a nasty place for a human being, but it’s also a nasty place for a robot,” said the other co-founder Chad Johnson. “So that’s been one of the biggest challenges is to overcome the environment and the physics inside of a grain bin and actually be able to do the work that we want to do.”

The Grain Weevil scurries on top of grain piles, propelled by two augers that for the time being come from a 3D printer.

Right now, it’s operated by remote control and has a rechargeable three-hour battery.

In the future, the hope is it becomes a “set it and forget it” device with coding for self-automation.

“To just have the farmer throw the robot in the bin and have it level the bin and come back the next day and it’s level,” Ben said.

The father-son duo’s device is also getting national attention. Most recently, as one of the ten finalists in the American Farm Bureau’s Agriculture Innovation Challenge.

“It’s taken some time to perfect and get the right batteries and the right setups, but I think the most important thing is all the help that we’ve gotten along the way,” Chad said.

The winner of that competition will be chosen at a conference held in early 2022.

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