Students have developed a project to help farmers in remote areas of Nigeria.
The project, which has developed into a startup called Mobile Agriculture Power Solutions (MAPS), aims to help farmers in areas of the world where access to sophisticated farming tools is limited.
Many farmers in remote areas can’t maintain the tools that would otherwise be used in farms in more developed regions, if they can even access these tools in the first place.
Large, expensive tractors require service at some point in time, and in remote areas like the ones that are the focus of MAPS, people qualified to do so simply don’t exist.
The solution to this issue is the MAPS “Ag Rover,” a three-wheel, multipurpose utility vehicle that acts as a sort of Swiss-army knife for these farmers. No matter what the season, the Ag Rover has a function: it can transport up to a 2,000 pound load in off-road conditions, support power attachments and even has the capability to plow and cultivate.
The primary feature of the Ag Rover, however, is its ability to be manufactured by people on-site in Nigeria with locally sourced parts, eliminating the issues of repair and fabrication that have stifled other, similar efforts with proprietary machines.
To do this, the project has developed a microfactory, or a small facility where technicians can create the Ag Rover with parts that are readily available in the local area. Currently, MAPS is only focused on farmers in Nigeria, where the first fully-functional Ag Rover saw deployment just last month.
Olubunmi Babajide, the business development manager for MAPS and a Ph.D. student in engineering education, explained that the project’s focus on Nigeria is a product of her personal experience.
Born in the country and a resident until her teenage years, Babajide thought her home country would be a perfect place to implement the Ag Rover, after she learned about an early version of the machine through an Exponent article in 2015.
From there, Babjide met with MAPS co-founder David Wilson and became a part of the team.
For her, the project carries personal weight: “Being able to be part of something that is meaningful to Nigeria and contributes to the agricultural sector there is very important to me,” said Babjide. “In the end, it helps the farmers, it develops the youth, all while developing the technological capability of the area.”
The project still has work to do. Though they’re celebrating the success of its first fully-functional Ag Rover, they still have improvements slated for the future. Currently, the group is focusing on the expanding the capabilities of the microfactory used to make the first Ag Rover.
They hope to turn it into a full factory so that Ag Rovers can be produced at a larger scale. Even further down the line, they hope to create more of these factories in several different locations.
However, the team will need more help to accomplish its goals. Currently, they’re looking for anyone with applicable technical skills or a desire to learn to join the team.
For David Wilson, involvement with the project began while he was a student at Purdue in 2010, long before it went by the name of MAPS.
Wilson said, “I came in as a novice, but because of the flexibility, I began to work more and more on the designs until I became a pretty integral member of the team.”
He later went on to co-found MAPS and lead the project to the point it’s at today.