University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Electrical Engineering
igu-award-adm | April 26, 2022
The use of robots in agriculture signals a digital transformation with new automation technologies to optimise a range of labour-intensive, resource-demanding, and time-consuming agricultural operations. Precision farming uses new production and management methods that combine data collected about specific locations and crop variety. Various robotic solutions were proposed for use in agriculture: picking and harvesting, weed control, autonomous mowing, pruning, seeding, spraying and thinning, phenotyping, monitoring, sorting and packing. Asparagus is known as one of the first spring vegetables. Around 9 million tons of asparagus are produced yearly. Stems are harvested manually daily, which includes a lot of manual labour in poor ergonomic conditions.
An outdoor robotic system for automatic asparagus harvesting was developed. It consists of an autonomous mobile platform placed on rubber tracks and a fast, lightweight robot manipulator. The manipulator was designed as a parallel delta robot mechanism with a two-degree-of-freedom end-effector for grasping and cutting individual spears. The mobile robot system is equipped with an advanced suite of sensors. Platform localisation is based on the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) with real-time kinematic positioning (RTK). A laser scanner is used to detect obstacles in the environment. A vision system based on a depth camera and a laser scanner enables the detection of individual asparagus spears to be harvested with a delta robot and placed into a container. The constant presence of dust and possible moisture is a challenge that a field robotics application needs to cope with. The system maintenance should be minimal to allow for good efficiency and ease of use. Bearings are one of the critical components of the delta robot. The low weight of the bearings is desired to allow for good dynamics of the robot. The components need to be resistant to the environment (dust, water) and as maintenance-free as possible. The bearing precision is also essential due to the long segments of the robot. We used a total of 12 IGUS clevis joints GERMKE-8 and GELMKE-8. For the remaining joints, we used an IGUS sleeve bearing GFM-0810-03 in combination with IGUS aluminium shaft AWMP-8.
European horti- and agriculture sector is challenged by an increasing world population with ever-growing food demand. Agriculture accounts for more than 41 % of the total area in Europe, with arable crops covering the majority of the useful agricultural surface. Farmers are being hit by falling commodity prices, labour shortages, and difficulties in planting and harvesting crops. Large numbers of seasonal workers to handpick key crops are required, while political pressures affect the migration of workers. Robotic technologies can replace tedious, poorly paid, dangerous seasonal labour jobs with year-round, high-quality technical jobs. Primary factors contributing to automation growth are the increasing requirement to improve productivity, decrease labour-intensive tasks, and tackle labour shortages. The agricultural robots market size is projected to grow from USD 7.4 billion in 2020 to USD 20.6 billion by 2025; it is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 22.8% from 2020 to 2025 (MarketsandMarkets, 2019). The introduction of a mobile robot manipulator for harvesting stem vegetables provides a solution to a specific challenge that addresses all the aforementioned problems by significantly lowering the workers workload and enabling more sustainable asparagus production.