Danny Rankin is creating agricultural hi-tech tools to help farmers. Technologies such as Smart tractors and GPS field monitoring systems increase the efficiency and agricultural output on farms, yet if farmers modify the technology in a way that Intellectual Property owners don’t like, they risk being sued, Rankin says.

“Most agricultural technology development is very hierarchical,” Rankin says. “I want to give farmers some degree of control back over agricultural hi-tech tools.”

The CTD student is developing agricultural sensors that will detect temperature, soil moisture and humidity in fields, which would give farmers real-time data about their land.

This kind of technology would reduce labor costs for farmers, Rankin says, Instead of driving from field to field or hiring extra farm hands to check on the status of their crops, Rankin’s sensors would provide continuous feedback, he said. By providing farmers with such tools, farmers will be better able to manage their lands and the commodities that they’re producing.

“For me, sustainable agriculture is not only environmentally sustainable, but also human sustainable,” Rankin says.

And, Rankin’s sensors aren’t just for monitoring fields; he’s also integrated sensors into a mobile chicken coop with automated doors. The 25-foot building houses 300 chickens and rolls so that the chickens can follow grazing herds. The chickens scratch up manure and grass, thereby helping to break up manure before it dries out, distributing the natural fertilizer through the soil as well as reducing fly larvae and other pasture insects.

Rankin says he worked on his agricultural projects in The Blow Things Up laboratory, where he was encouraged to pursue his personal interests.

“Having a space where you work on your own interests rather than a class project was fundamental,” he says. “I would have never pictured myself doing this kind of research, but the ATLAS community made it happen.”