To solve the problems of shortage and population aging in Taiwan's agricultural workforce, as well as to reduce the agricultural labor burden, Wei-Chih Lin, an associate professor of the Department of Mechanical and Electro-Mechanical Engineering at National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU), led a research and development team (R&D) to introduce high-tech smart agriculture and create labor-saving machines—crested floating heart electric planting machine and agricultural electric spraying vehicle. The two patent achievements were exhibited at the 2022 Taiwan International Agricultural Machinery and Materials Exhibition in Chiayi and the 2023 Smart City Summit & Expo in Kaohsiung. A contract was then signed with agricultural machinery companies for technology transfer and mass production to promote Taiwan's smart agricultural upgrade and spread the good news to farmers.
Wei-Chih Lin, associate professor of the Department of Mechanical and Electro-Mechanical Engineering at NSYSU, pointed out that crested floating heart is a high-value agricultural product. The total area of crested floating heart planted in Kaohsiung City is about 128 hectares. The difficulty of planting crested floating heart is that the crested floating heart seedlings are soft, unlike rice that stands upright, so rice transplanters cannot be used. At present, there are no relevant and suitable agricultural machinery or tools available for planting crested floating heart in Taiwan and abroad. Farmers can only bend down and plant with bare hands. "It takes about 3 hours for two people to work together with two crested floating heart ponds (around 19.39834 Are), and the waist would hardly stretch after planting!" If the farmers use the crested floating heart electric planting machine developed by the team instead of planting by hand, they don't have to bend over and plant quickly. It will not only save planting time but also improve the lack of workforce.
Wei-Chih Lin further explained that the crested floating heart electric planting machine can fill buckets with crested floating heart seedlings and plant them onto the ground through the conveying mechanism of the feeding cylinder, hence removing the need for farmers to bend down. Moreover, after the crested floating heart is harvested, clearing the pond of waste materials is necessary, which takes about 4 hours for four workers to finish. The research team also developed a cleaning machine that can transport the waste materials by rolling the discarded seedlings in the water onto the car. To operate this machine, only two people are needed, and the processing time is reduced to 2 hours, which reduces the burden on farmers significantly.
The agricultural electric spraying vehicle is also the research and development product of Wei-Chih Lin after determining the needs and difficulties of farmers on site. He said that since the current pesticide spraying operation in the greenhouse is not suitable for plant protection machines that spray pesticides in the air, farmers mostly carry pesticide containers on their backs or hold high-pressure hoses by hand to spray pesticides. Not only does this add to the heavy weights already being carried by farmers, but also exposes them to toxic pesticides. The agricultural electric spraying vehicle can instead be used to spray on crops of papaya, tomato, and cantaloupe in the greenhouse; it can also be extended to bananas, guavas, and other crops on outdoor farms. Farmers can operate it using a remote control or automate it by making it follow a line through image recognition. So long as the remote control is within reach, the pesticide application and spraying operation can be completed remotely with the vehicle, which not only removes the need to carry heavy pesticide containers but also reduces the risk of inhalation of toxic pesticide brought by close-range application, hence ensuring the health and safety of farmers.
Wei-Chih Lin said that Taiwan's agricultural labor has become increasingly scarce, and the development and application of labor-saving machinery and tools have become an important direction in the development of agriculture in recent years. Whether it is the Ministry of Agriculture of the Executive Yuan or the agricultural bureaus of the country and city governments, all are hoping to develop smart agriculture, introduce relevant technologies, and promote sustainable development of agriculture. The R&D team has implemented several projects, including the academic science and technology project "Research and Application Results of Crested Floating Heart Planting Machine and Harvesting Machine" of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Smart Agricultural Technology Project "Development and Application of commonality laborsaving machinery for agriculture " subsidized by the Ministry of Agriculture. The R&D team overcame practical difficulties and designed two machines, the crested floating heart electric planting machine and the agricultural electric spraying vehicle, which saves time, effort, and labor while also protecting the health of farmers.