Watch a Happy Little Robot Off-Road Inside a Grain Bin to Help Farmers

It’s so satisfying to watch it work.

byKristin V. Shaw|
small robot with lights on
Grain Weevile


Grain such as soybeans, corn, and wheat require storage in giant metal receptacles called grain bins. They, like everything else on a farm, must be maintained to keep the contents fresh and avoid insects and mold. Getting inside a grain bin to stir it up is a hazardous undertaking for reasons I’ll explain in a minute. As an alternative, a father-son team in Omaha, Nebraska came up with an agricultural robot that acts like an off-roading Roomba on a small mountain of grain.

The ag robot is called Grain Weevil, invented by Chad and Ben Johnson. Watching this little robot is supremely satisfying as it plows happily through a pile of grain, doing its job.

“This is the robot embodiment of love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life,” said one commenter on Grain Weevil’s YouTube channel.

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Americans have an ongoing love affair with carbs, and grain farmers are very important people. Those chocolate chip cookies we love so much require some kind of flour, and flour comes from a variety of grains. Even a certain uniform chip that comes in a canister seems to be made from particle board and, you guessed it: wheat. That precious calorie-laden ingredient can come with a heavy price, and the Johnsons answered the call from a farmer friend looking for a solution. Thus, the Grain Weevil.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warns of a number of dangerous situations that can happen when a worker enters a grain bin, all of them terrifying. Standing on top of the grain brings the risk of suffocation after sinking into the pile in a matter of 4-5 seconds. Or moisture and mold can cause the grain to clump together up the side or as a “bridge” that creates an empty space beneath it. As it’s unloaded from the bottom into the auger, the worker can be quickly buried.

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In the agriculture world, a designated Grain Bin Safety Week is set aside each February as a reminder. According to Nationwide Insurance Company, at least 29 grain entrapments were reported in 2022, 11 resulting in death; more than 300 people were trapped over the past decade. That number doesn't even include the estimated 30 percent of unreported incidents. On top of that, farmers are susceptible to a condition called Farmer’s Lung, which is caused by breathing in dust from corn, wheat, hay, animal feed, and other agricultural elements.

Maybe it’s not a good idea to anthropomorphize a useful robot, but the little machine’s movements and lights seem to suggest a cheerful outlook. It’s a heck of a lot safer than getting in there with a shovel.  

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