An agricultural robot is a robot deployed for agricultural purposes. The main area of application of robots in agriculture today is at the harvesting stage. Emerging applications of robots or drones in agriculture include weed control, cloud seeding, planting seeds, harvesting, environmental monitoring and soil analysis. According to Verified Market Research, the agricultural robots market is expected to reach $11.58 billion by 2025.
Fruit picking robots, driverless tractor / sprayers, and sheep shearing robots are designed to replace human labor. In most cases, a lot of factors have to be considered (e.g., the size and color of the fruit to be picked) before the commencement of a task. Robots can be used for other horticultural tasks such as pruning, weeding, spraying and monitoring. Robots can also be used in livestock applications (livestock robotics) such as automatic milking, washing and castrating. Robots like these have many benefits for the agricultural industry, including a higher quality of fresh produce, lower production costs, and a decreased need for manual labor. They can also be used to automate manual tasks, such as weed or bracken spraying, where the use of tractors and other human-operated vehicles is too dangerous for the operators.
The mechanical design consists of an end effector, manipulator, and gripper. Several factors must be considered in the design of the manipulator, including the task, economic efficiency, and required motions. The end effector influences the market value of the fruit and the gripper's design is based on the crop that is being harvested.
An end effector in an agricultural robot is the device found at the end of the robotic arm, used for various agricultural operations. Several different kinds of end effectors have been developed. In an agricultural operation involving grapes in Japan, end effectors are used for harvesting, berry-thinning, spraying, and bagging. Each was designed according to the nature of the task and the shape and size of the target fruit. For instance, the end effectors used for harvesting were designed to grasp, cut, and push the bunches of grapes.
Berry thinning is another operation performed on the grapes, and is used to enhance the market value of the grapes, increase the grapes' size, and facilitate the bunching process. For berry thinning, an end effector consists of an upper, middle, and lower part. The upper part has two plates and a rubber that can open and close. The two plates compress the grapes to cut off the rachis branches and extract the bunch of grapes. The middle part contains a plate of needles, a compression spring, and another plate which has holes spread across its surface. When the two plates compress, the needles punch holes through the grapes. Next, the lower part has a cutting device which can cut the bunch to standardize its length.
For spraying, the end effector consists of a spray nozzle that is attached to a manipulator. In practice, producers want to ensure that the chemical liquid is evenly distributed across the bunch. Thus, the design allows for an even distribution of the chemical by making the nozzle to move at a constant speed while keeping distance from the target.
The final step in grape production is the bagging process. The bagging end effector is designed with a bag feeder and two mechanical fingers. In the bagging process, the bag feeder is composed of slits which continuously supply bags to the fingers in an up and down motion. While the bag is being fed to the fingers, two leaf springs that are located on the upper end of the bag hold the bag open. The bags are produced to contain the grapes in bunches. Once the bagging process is complete, the fingers open and release the bag. This shuts the leaf springs, which seals the bag and prevents it from opening again.
The gripper is a grasping device that is used for harvesting the target crop. Design of the gripper is based on simplicity, low cost, and effectiveness. Thus, the design usually consists of two mechanical fingers that are able to move in synchrony when performing their task. Specifics of the design depend on the task that is being performed. For example, in a procedure that required plants to be cut for harvesting, the gripper was equipped with a sharp blade.
The manipulator allows the gripper and end effector to navigate through their environment. The manipulator consists of four-bar parallel links that maintain the gripper's position and height. The manipulator also can utilize one, two, or three pneumatic actuators. Pneumatic actuators are motors which produce linear and rotary motion by converting compressed air into energy. The pneumatic actuator is the most effective actuator for agricultural robots because of its high power-weight ratio. The most cost efficient design for the manipulator is the single actuator configuration, yet this is the least flexible option.
The first development of robotics in agriculture can be dated as early as the 1920s, with research to incorporate automatic vehicle guidance into agriculture beginning to take shape. This research led to the advancements between the 1950s and 60s of autonomous agricultural vehicles. The concept was not perfect however, with the vehicles still needing a cable system to guide their path. Robots in agriculture continued to develop as technologies in other sectors began to develop as well. It was not until the 1980s, following the development of the computer, that machine vision guidance became possible.
While robots have been incorporated in indoor industrial settings for decades, outdoor robots for the use of agriculture are considered more complex and difficult to develop. This is due to concerns over safety, but also over the complexity of picking crops subject to different environmental factors and unpredictability.
Demand in the market
There are concerns over the amount of labor the agricultural sector needs. With an aging population, Japan is unable to meet the demands of the agricultural labor market. Similarly, the United States currently depends on a large number of immigrant workers, but between the decrease in seasonal farmworkers and increased efforts to stop immigration by the government, they too are unable to meet the demand. Businesses are often forced to let crops rot due to an inability to pick them all by the end of the season. Additionally, there are concerns over the growing population that will need to be fed over the next years. Because of this, there is a large desire to improve agricultural machinery to make it more cost efficient and viable for continued use.
Current applications and trends
While robots have already been incorporated in many areas of agricultural farm work, they are still largely missing in the harvest of various crops. This has started to change as companies begin to develop robots that complete more specific tasks on the farm. The biggest concern over robots harvesting crops comes from harvesting soft crops such as strawberries which can easily be damaged or missed entirely. Despite these concerns, progress in this area is being made. According to Gary Wishnatzki, the co-founder of Harvest Croo Robotics, one of their strawberry pickers currently being tested in Florida can "pick a 25-acre field in just three days and replace a crew of about 30 farm workers". Similar progress is being made in harvesting apples, grapes, and other crops. In the case of apple harvesting robots, current developments have been too slow to be commercially viable. Modern robots are able to harvest apples at a rate of one every five to ten seconds while the average human harvests at a rate of one per second.
Another goal being set by agricultural companies involves the collection of data. There are rising concerns over the growing population and the decreasing labor available to feed them. Data collection is being developed as a way to increase productivity on farms. AgriData is currently developing new technology to do just this and help farmers better determine the best time to harvest their crops by scanning fruit trees.
Robots have many fields of application in agriculture. Some examples and prototypes of robots include the Merlin Robot Milker, Rosphere,[clarification needed] Harvest Automation,[clarification needed] Orange Harvester, lettuce bot,[clarification needed] and weeder.
According to David Gardner, chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, a robot can complete a complicated task if its repetitive and the robot is allowed to sit in a single place. Furthermore, robots that work on repetitive tasks (e.g. milking) fulfill their role to a consistent and particular standard.[better source needed]
- One case[further explanation needed] of a large scale use of robots in farming is the milk bot. It is widespread among British dairy farms because of its efficiency and nonrequirement to move.
- Another field of application is horticulture. One horticultural application is the development of RV100 by Harvest Automation Inc. RV 100 is designed to transport potted plants in a greenhouse or outdoor setting. The functions of RV100 in handling and organizing potted plants include spacing capabilities, collection, and consolidation. The benefits of using RV100 for this task include high placement accuracy, autonomous outdoor and indoor function, and reduced production costs.
Benefits of many applications may include ecosystem/environmental benefits, and reduced costs for labor (which may translate to reduced food costs), which may be of special importance for food production in regions where there are labor shortages (see above) or where labor is relatively expensive. Benefits also include the general advantages of automation such as in terms of productivity/availability and increasing availability of human resources for other tasks or e.g. making work more engaging.
Examples and further applications
- Weed control using lasers (e.g. LaserWeeder by Carbon Robotics)
- Precision agriculture robots applying low amounts of herbicides and fertilizers with precision while mapping plant locations
- Picking robots are under development
- Vinobot and Vinoculer
- LSU's AgBot
- Burro, a carrying and path following robot with the potential to expand into picking and phytopathology
- Harvest Automation is a company founded by former iRobot employees to develop robots for greenhouses
- Root AI has made a tomato-picking robot for use in greenhouses
- Strawberry picking robot from Robotic Harvesting and Agrobot
- Small Robot Company developed a range of small agricultural robots, each one being focused on a particular task (weeding, spraying, drilling holes, ...) and controlled by an AI system
- Agreenculture 
- ecoRobotix has made a solar-powered weeding and spraying robot
- Blue River Technology has developed a farm implement for a tractor which only sprays plants that require spraying, reducing herbicide use by 90%
- Casmobot next generation slope mower
- Fieldrobot Event is a competition in mobile agricultural robotics
- HortiBot - A Plant Nursing Robot
- Lettuce Bot - Organic Weed Elimination and Thinning of Lettuce
- Rice planting robot developed by the Japanese National Agricultural Research Centre
- ROS Agriculture - Open source software for agricultural robots using the Robot Operating System
- The IBEX autonomous weed spraying robot for extreme terrain, under development
- FarmBot, Open Source CNC Farming
- VAE, under development by an Argentinean ag-tech startup, aims to become a universal platform for multiple agricultural applications, from precision spraying to livestock handling.
- ACFR RIPPA: for spot spraying
- ACFR SwagBot; for livestock monitoring
- ACFR Digital Farmhand: for spraying, weeding and seeding
- Thorvald - an autonomous modular multi-purpose agricultural robot developed by Saga Robotics.
- ^ Cousins, David (24 February 2016). "Self-driving Ibex robot sprayer helps farmers safely tackle hills". Farmers Weekly. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
- ^ Ackerman, Evan (12 November 2015). "Bosch's Giant Robot Can Punch Weeds to Death". IEEE.
- ^ "Agriculture Robots at The University of Sydney". 2016.
- ^ Craft, Andrew (1 March 2017). "Making it rain: Drones could be the future for cloud seeding". Fox News. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
- ^ Anderson, Chris. "How Drones Came to Your Local Farm". MIT Technology Review. Archived from the original on 7 March 2017. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
- ^ Mazur, Michal (July 20, 2016). "Six Ways Drones Are Revolutionizing Agriculture". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
- ^ Global Agriculture Robots Market Size By Type (Driverless Tractors, Automated Harvesting Machine, Others), By Application (Field Farming, Dairy Management, Indoor Farming, Others) By Geography Scope and Forecast (Report). Verified Market Research. September 2018. 3426.
- ^ Belton, Padraig (2016-11-25). "In the future, will farming be fully automated?". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-11-28.
- ^ Monta, M.; Kondo, N.; Shibano, Y. (21–27 May 1995). "Agricultural Robot in Grape Production System". Proceedings of 1995 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. Vol. 3. Nagoya: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. pp. 2504–2509. doi:10.1109/ROBOT.1995.525635. ISBN 0-7803-1965-6.
- ^ Foglia, M. M.; Reina, G. (2006). "Agricultural robot for radicchio harvesting" (PDF). Journal of Field Robotics. 23 (6–7): 363–377. doi:10.1002/rob.20131. S2CID 31369744.
- ^ a b c d e Yaghoubi, S.; Akbarzadeh, N. A.; Bazargani, S. S.; Bazargani, S. S.; Bamizan, M.; Asl, M. I. (2013). "Autonomous Robots for Agricultural Tasks and Farm Assignment and Future Trends in Agro Robots". International Journal of Mechanical & Mechatronics Engineering. 13 (3): 1–6. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.418.3615.
- ^ a b Harrell, Roy (1987). "Economic Analysis of Robotic Citrus Harvesting in Florida". Transactions of the ASAE. 30 (2): 298–304. doi:10.13031/2013.31943.
- ^ a b c d e f g h Dorfman, Jason (December 12, 2009). "Fields of automation". The Economist. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
- ^ a b c d e Daniels, Jeff (2018-03-08). "From strawberries to apples, a wave of agriculture robotics may ease the farm labor crunch". CNBC. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
- ^ a b c d e f Simon, Matt (May 31, 2017). "Robots Wielding Water Knives Are the Future of Farming". Wired. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
- ^ Bogue, Robert (2016-01-01). "Robots poised to revolutionise agriculture". Industrial Robot: An International Journal. 43 (5): 450–456. doi:10.1108/IR-05-2016-0142. ISSN 0143-991X.
- ^ Harvey, Fiona (9 January 2014). "Robot farmers are the future of agriculture, says government". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- ^ Jenkins, David (23 September 2013). "Agriculture shock: How robot farmers will take over our fields". Metro. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- ^ "Products". Harvest Automation. 2016. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- ^ a b Papadopoulos, Loukia (21 October 2022). "This new farming robot uses lasers to kill 200,000 weeds per hour". interestingengineering.com. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
- ^ a b c d Paquette, Danielle. "Farmworkers vs robots: Will tomorrow fruit pickers be made of steel and tech?". Washington Post. Retrieved 5 December 2022.
- ^ a b "Verdant Robotics launches multi-action agricultural robot for 'superhuman farming'". Robotics & Automation News. 23 February 2022. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
- ^ "Small Robot Company Tom, Dick, and Harry farm robots: The 200 Best Inventions of 2022". Time. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
- ^ Shafiekhani, Ali; Kadam, Suhas; Fritschi, Felix B.; DeSouza, Guilherme N. (2017-01-23). "Vinobot and Vinoculer: Two Robotic Platforms for High-Throughput Field Phenotyping". Sensors. 17 (1): 214. Bibcode:2017Senso..17..214S. doi:10.3390/s17010214. PMC 5298785. PMID 28124976.
- ^ Ledford, Heidi (2017-01-26). "Plant biologists welcome their robot overlords". Nature. 541 (7638): 445–446. Bibcode:2017Natur.541..445L. doi:10.1038/541445a. PMID 28128274.
- ^ University of Missouri-Columbia (March 28, 2017). "Fighting world hunger: Robotics aid in the study of corn and drought tolerance". Phys.org. Retrieved 2017-11-26.
- ^ "AgBot Multi-Function Robot Is Powered by the Sun". pcmag.com. Archived from the original on 31 March 2012. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
- ^ Piquepaille, Roland (November 25, 2008). "A fully customizable home robot". ZDNet. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
- Kart, Jeff (2018-11-09). "Burro Helper Robot Increases Employee Productivity By 20-30%". Forbes. Retrieved 2022-06-01.
- Johnson, Khari (2022-02-16). "The Elusive Hunt for a Robot That Can Pick a Ripe Strawberry". Wired. Retrieved 2022-06-01.
- Johnson, Khari (2021-11-05). "These Robots Follow You to Learn Where to Go". Wired. Retrieved 2022-06-01.
- "Autonomous table grape robot among World Ag Expo's new products". FreshFruitPortal.com. 2022-02-07. Retrieved 2022-06-01.
- ^ "Harvest Automation Inc". www.harvestautomation.com. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
- ^ Shieber, Jonathan (8 August 2018). "Your vegetables are going to be picked by robots sooner than you think". TechCrunch.
- ^ "Introducing Root AI". 8 August 2018.
- ^ "Robotic Harvesting".
- ^ "Robotic Harvesters | Agrobot | Spain".
- ^ "How small robots may kill the tractor and make farming efficient". Wired.
- ^ "Autonomous seeder and planter projects".
- ^ "ecoRobotix plans spot-spraying robot for weed control".
- ^ "Blue River See & Spray Tech Reduces Herbicide Use By 90%". Archived from the original on 2019-03-22. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
- ^ "How Blue River's technology could change agriculture forever". 5 August 2017.
- ^ "Casmobot".
- ^ "The Field Robot Event".
- ^ "HortiBot - A Plant Nursing Robot".
- ^ "See & Spray Agricultural Machines - Blue River Technology". See & Spray Agricultural Machines - Blue River Technology. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
- ^ "Fields of automation". The Economist.
- ^ "ROS Agriculture". An ecosystem to empower farmers with robotic tools.
- ^ "Agricultural robot starts UK trials". The Engineer. 22 February 2016. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
- ^ "FarmBot - Open-Source CNC Farming". farmbot.io. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
- ^ "FarmBot DIY agriculture robot promises to usher in the future of farming". digitaltrends.com. 28 July 2016. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
- ^ "Presentaron un vehículo agrícola que robotiza la aplicación de agroquímicos" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2018-06-07.
- ^ ACFR robots
- ^ "Agriculture Robots at The University of Sydney". Sydney.edu.au. 2016.
- ^ "THORVALD – AUTONOMOUS MODULAR ROBOT DELIVERING AGRICULTURAL SERVICES". Retrieved 6 September 2019.
Media related to Agricultural robots at Wikimedia Commons