On my first job out of school, I was told to design an instruction decoder for a microprocessor. It was a complex block for the early 80s, taking all of 30,000 transistors, and it occupied one whole corner of the chip. When people asked what I did, I would say “You see these little shiny squares in the upper corner of this fingernail-sized chip? That’s mine.” Not impressive.
Here’s some more info on this picture from NASA. In the center pivot scheme, a 400 m long pipe sweeps out a slow circle around a field, dripping water as it goes. The pipe is supported by towers, each of which has an electric motor to drive it:
Each tower has angle sensors to keep the segments all in line. The water comes from a well in the middle.
In the early 50s he bought the design from one Frank Zybach. His people improved it and marketed it all over the world. Now 42% of all irrigation in the US is done this way. How can you tell? Because, as the first picture shows, you can count these circles from space.
Center pivot irrigation replaces the traditional technique of flooding ditches with water. It uses much less, because less is lost to evaporation. Fields can get a regular drip instead of a one-time flood. It also uses much less labor (no need to go around pulling up ditch sluice gates) and works on fields that aren’t flat.
Daugherty just died at age 88 in Omaha, leaving 3 sons and 9 grandchildren. He put most of his fortune into the Daugherty Foundation, whose largest grant appears to be $50M to the University of Nebraska to study water issues in agriculture. Those are crucial in all the western states, and will be crucial everywhere in the not distant future.
There’s an old line – “Real engineering is where if you fall off of it, you die.” Daugherty could go one better – “Real engineering can be seen from space!” There’s a boast few can make!