Image credit: Cherry Crest Adventure Farm
If you live near farmland, especially in the Midwest, chances are you’ve seen or been to a corn maze. Often tied to pumpkin patches and apple orchards, corn mazes draw additional revenue for farmers near the end of the growing season.
These elaborate labyrinths were once drawn by hand, measured out on the field, and constructed by planting or cutting crops in careful patterns. The concept goes back at least to the 1600s when the gardens of Versailles were planted.
Today, corn mazes have received a technology upgrade. Tractors and combines with GPS systems have altered how farmers plant and harvest their crops. The same precision farming techniques that rely on computer vision, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to improve crop yield can be programmed to follow detailed maps of corn mazes that feature images, phrases, and names along with the maze pattern.
Building a Maze
GPS technology at John Deere, for example, allows farmers to drive tractors within centimeters of the determined route, preventing equipment from running over and damaging crops. It also ensures farmers don’t cover the same ground twice.
For corn mazes, GPS technology guides the equipment along the proper path allowing farmers to make more challenging and intricate mazes. Designs are drawn by hand or computer generated and are uploaded to a computer or tablet, then overlaid on a map of the field. A GPS-enabled tractor or mower is driven along the maze route, cutting down crops along the path. The remaining corn stalks can reach 10 feet in height, blocking the view of all who enter the maze.
Image credit: Robinette's Apple Hause & Winery
Interactive Digital Fun
Adding to the challenge of making it out of the maze, corn maze operators are including digital checkpoints and games to their mazes. Smart phones allow participants to engage in interactive games and trivia while they navigate the maze. Farmers upload their maze map to a hosted Website. Visitors access the site through their smartphone, enter a farm-specific code, and the games begin.
Maze Master Smartphone Games has a few corn maze games. Visitors can scan QR codes at specific points within the maze, like a virtual punch card. The phone tracks which points they find, and the maze owner can offer a reward to those who reach all the checkpoints. Trivia games allow maze participants to answer hundreds of questions across dozens of categories. Correct responses point visitors in the right direction. Questions can be customized in advance for school groups, scouts, company outings or other organizations.
MazeGPS Explorer translates a map of the corn maze to a smartphone, so participants can see their precise path and progress within the maze. Visitors select a character, which pinpoints their exact location on the maze. Farmers provide the GPS files of the maze—though they aren’t required—and MazeGPS Explorer renders it for smartphone viewing through a browser. The software works on iOS, Android, and Windows devices. MazeGPS will set up and upload two maps per farm. The company also hosts the software and Web files and provides free phone and email tech support.
Interactive enhancements also can include a rescue button, which notifies maze workers, not 911, if a visitor is lost and can’t find their way out of the maze. With GPS technology and near ubiquitous use of smartphones, precision corn mazes and interactive apps are an easy way to modernize a fun fall activity.