Farmer robots, agriculturalists grow and harvest crops. Besides, they perform other tasks Complex and monotonous for man – those related to loading, watering, fertilizing, weeding, data collection, field mapping, soil analysis, environmental monitoring, etc.
Harvesting orchards requires the efforts of thousands of seasonal workers. Fruit picking is a seasonal, low-paying, repetitive job with little career advancement. Pickers are getting older, and the younger generation is migrating to cities in search of full-time, year-round, higher-paying jobs. Current labor costs for farms range from 40 to 60%. Robots don’t get tired, they work 24 hours a day, they don’t need any amenities, they don’t go on vacation, and most importantly they get cheaper and better every year.
The following farming systems, robots and smart self-propelled systems are used for picking apples, pears and other fruits: fruit-picking drones Tevel Aerobotics Technologies, Eve, Mars, FFRobotics robots. The strawberry harvesting bots are Rubion, Soil Bot, and Agrobot. Berries and melons are harvested by Fieldwork Robotics. There are also Sparter Virginia Tech’s asparagus harvesting robots, GRoW’s tomato harvesting robots, and a Vegebot for lettuce.
Harvesting, trimming and sorting robots
Gardening robots can carefully cut leaves, harvest fruits and vegetables, and analyze and grade vegetables and fruits by quality. These intelligent helpers are usually equipped with “hands” to perform a wide range of tasks in the orchards. For example, the University of Plymouth’s Adaptive Robotics (SAR) Laboratory, led by Dr Martin Stollen, is developing “soft robotic arm technology” for selective harvesting in horticulture. Parts of the robotic arm can change their stiffness in real time, becoming soft to withstand shock during the rapid phases of movement towards the fruit and vice versa to ensure accuracy during the approaching and catching phase.
Dr. Stolen also works in the independent and selective harvesting of berries and tomatoes under the China Robot Harvest project. He is examining how the technology can be applied to cauliflower under the Automated Cabbage Harvesting Project in Cornwall, part of a three-year Agri-Tech Cornwall initiative funded in part by the European Regional Development Fund and Cornwall Council.
It should be noted that most harvesting robot models have high initial investment costs and long payback periods. A few of these robots have passed the prototype stage and are on sale. By reducing the cost of mass production of robots, the scope of use can be expanded according to the needs of the farmer.
You can watch videos of different types of harvesting robots. However, there are very few of them on sale today. End-of-arm tools (EoATs) for harvesting robots vary with the type of crop. For example, peppers with a smooth, waxy surface can be picked using suction cups. Tomatoes are more fragile than peppers, so the robots use soft grippers that twist the fruit as they are pulled from the plant. Strawberries are more delicate, so harvesting them requires special care. For example, there is a robot that grabs fruits with a stem knife to avoid damage.
The robot’s vision, using artificial intelligence, determines the ripeness and plans the path for the robotic arm to pick the fruit. Some harvesting robots are equipped with an articulated arm that moves on a wheelbase. Others use tracks like military vehicles.
Some harvesting robots are equipped with two drones. The drones are attached to a wheeled cart that provides electricity. Drones fly by the cart, using computer vision to find and grab ripe fruit with picking mechanisms. Once harvested, the drone places the fruit into a basket in the cart. The trolley moves down the aisle, and the drones attached to the trolley move as needed.
Data collection and analysis systems allow the identification of fruits and their stage of maturity, readiness for harvest and quality, and the accurate selection and sorting of fruits. The help of artificial intelligence allows the robot to control the life cycle of the plant more efficiently.
Some weeding robots for commercial agriculture use small doses of herbicides. The robot moves independently through the rows. It uses computer vision to distinguish weeds from crops. When a hashish is detected, the robot’s mechanisms are triggered. A small amount of insecticide is deposited on the weeds. Thus, much less chemicals are used. Another approach involves using a laser to kill weeds. Therefore, this method does not use chemicals and is certified organic. For example, the Swiss ecoRobotix is a robot designed to automatically reduce plantings and weeds. EcoRobotix is equipped with a computer vision system designed to identify weeds. It is orientated in space guided by GPS and touch sensors. The robot processes about 3 hectares of crops per day and, if necessary, sprays weeds with a small dose of herbicide. This approach reduces the amount of chemicals used by 2-3 times.
Some weeding robots are equipped with solar panels for power, while others use batteries or diesel fuel.
AIGRO UP, an autonomous Dutch robot, can perform tasks such as weeding and mowing. It’s designed to be lightweight yet powerful enough to last up to 10 hours between charges.
AGROBOT is one of the global players in the self-propelled gardening solutions market. Made for fruit and vegetable trade, the Agrobot E-Series is an innovative generation of strawberry picking robots. These machines are designed to work independently in rows on any farm.
AGROBOT is also a developer of Bug Vacuum robots for pest control. The Bug Vacuum robot moves around the field on its own, so the farmer only needs to bring it to the starting point and select “auto mode”. The robot recognizes row spaces as navigational landmarks if they are within the row. Once the grooves are done, the navigation controller decides what to do next: go to the next row, turn around or finish the job.
The Bug Vacuum has a dual-fan vacuum system that provides uniform airflow across the entire width. Optimum vacuum pressure is achieved through precise fan height control, which maximizes insect suction. In line with food safety standards, the fan inlet is made of stainless steel and food-grade silicone.
Another world-famous company is NAIO-TECHNOLOGIES – a developer of automated, self-propelled equipment for growing fruits and vegetables (France). All robots are powered by the RTK GPS navigation system, which provides farmers with accurate weeding. The environmental friendliness of the process and respect for the soil is an important component of the work of NAIO-TECHNOLOGIES robots. These technologies solve the shortage of agricultural workers, reduce hard physical labor and limit the use of chemical herbicides.
Today, more than 200 Naïo robots solve weeding problems around the world.
The company makes robots like the autonomous DINO robot for weeding vegetable crops. It navigates the field autonomously with an accuracy of up to 2 cm thanks to a guidance system that gathers information from RTK GPS and other sensors. Dino marks rows of crops and sets the weed tools as close to the plants as possible.
Dino works on crops such as lettuce, onions, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, leeks, cauliflower and various herbs (garlic, cilantro, mint, etc.)
Another solution of the company is OZ, a multifunctional agricultural assistant robot for complex, labor-intensive tasks, such as loosening, weeding, chopping, and seeding.
The company’s self-propelled robot, TED, is designed for vineyards. Its advantages are efficient and precise mechanical weeding without herbicides, protecting soil and crops. He works 8 hours a day and is easily equipped with various tools to work in the field.
BoniRob, GREENBOT, KubotaLADYBIRD ROBOT, Husky UGV and other smart robots are designed to work in vineyards, berry fields, orchards and vegetable crops.
The development of robotics will go hand in hand with the development of new technologies in breeding. Therefore, over time, many types of vegetables and fruits will also be adapted to the work of robots. That is, there will be cooperation between manufacturers of robots and breeders of different types of vegetables and fruits.
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