AI News, Loser: Fruitless

Loser: Fruitless

In California it’s hard to drive anywhere without spotting people bending down to pick strawberries—some 10 million pint baskets a day during peak season.

Yet although the system may well qualify as a technical tour de force, it’s hard to see how it makes economic sense, particularly outside of Japan.

When the robot comes across a candidate plant, its machine vision has to do more than just tell red from green, because a strawberry goes through many shades of red before it is fully ripe.

Robots aren’t up to that, particularly in an unstructured environment outdoors.” Sure, dumb mechanical harvesters have long ripped hard, unripened tomatoes off the vine to ripen and be sorted later on.

The original prototype looked like a version of the multimedia cart used in high schools: it had wheels on the bottom and several layers of open shelves, with a laptop computer on the top shelf and a tall arm towering above it, much like the arm of an overhead projector that rises above that media cart.

The robot cruised planted rows, illuminating berries with four polarized lights and examining them with three color video-graphics-array cameras.

The target cost of the hardware components for one robot—estimated at 7 million yen (about US $72 000 at press time)—equals the seasonal wages of three to four workers.

We aren’t going to grow strawberries in greenhouses anytime soon.” “If you are interested in developing robots, it is a fascinating task,” says John Billingsley, professor of mechatronic engineering at the University of Southern Queensland, in Toowoomba, Australia.

“If you are interested in harvesting strawberries, it is not the way to do it.” A better solution, he says, would be to just raise a lot of strawberries, harvest them all at once with a dumb mechanical device, and then sort out the good ones.

You could make a robotic dishwasher, he says, by taking a standard industrial robotic arm, putting it in front of a sink with a dishcloth in its grip, and programming it to do the task.

Smart Robots for Picking Fruit

The group is well on its way to developing the technology for a robot to do not only basic routine chores for crops such as peppers and apples in addition to grapes, but may be able to identify and pick ripe fruit and target spray to specific areas of plants as well.

3, which includes the robotic arm, with the objectives of designing, modeling, manufacturing, and optimization of “low-cost, lightweight, modular and compliant manipulators with exchangeable end-effectors and their motion control.”

Down the road, the work may be able to be used for other agricultural applications where robots have not been employed as much as in the manufacturing field, for one reason because agricultural tasks are rarely strictly repetitive but require sophisticated learning and sensing technology.

Yael Edan, Ben Gurion University team leader of the cRops project, says the main contributions that this project will make are the development of a new modular mechanical design and the algorithms that will allow the robot to adapt to varying conditions.

Of the key components (the mechanical manipulator, grippers for grasping the fruits and vegetables, sensors for fruit detection and ripeness detection, and algorithms for sensing and learning capabilities), the most challenging are related to sensors and algorithms for fruit detection, she says.

A Spanish company, Agrobot, sells a robotic strawberry harvester that locates the berries, analyzes each fruit, and determines whether it’s ready for picking based on its size and color, and similar work also focusing on strawberries has been conducted in Japan.

In the last 2 years were released as prototypes or for sale a lot of robots able to perform a wide range of agricultural chores.

These robots uses specialized tools and accessories, arms and hands to perform agricultural tasks.

have collected robots from around the world to give you an idea of how deeply the technology penetrates the agricultural systems.

students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology design a mobile robot able to maintain the soil humidity and pick the ripe fruits.

A network of sensors attached to each plant monitors the soil humidity and call the robot for water.

This machine uses sensors and robotic arms to detect ripe berries and pick these up from the ground.

A 3D stereo camera detects the ripeness of the fruit according to color and determines whether or not the fruit should be picked.

The robot is a configurable, modular and intelligent robot platform that uses cameras and other sensor technology to detect the ripeness and the position of the fruit.

II is a robot designed to help farmers to take decisions on the use of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and watering.

Inside the ball are attached a range of sensors to collect information about soil temperature, composition, moisture and plant health.

One task is to travel between the rows of corn to remove height constraints imposed by a rapidly growing crop.

OzOZ is an autonomous electric robot designed to automate the way we grow a plant, maintain and harvest row crops.

is a robot uses in horticulture and programmed to do the deleafing of tomato crops.Kompano LettuceBotThe LettuceBot combine computer vision and robotics to act 90 times per second with a precision of ¼-inch.

The robot is 30 cm wide and uses a pipe rail system to move through the greenhouse.

It is designed to use in tomato, cucumber, pepper, eggplant, rose, gerbera, anthurium, alstroemeria, and orchid.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA TrakürTrakür (fog) is a robot designed to apply pesticides in greenhouses.

VINBOTThis robot feature a range of sensors capable to collect data and help winegrowers to determine the yield of the vineyards.

The robot uses wheels, gripper arms, trays and sensors move the plants to the desired location.

GrizzlyGrizzly is an autonomous utility vehicle with a strong body that can host a wide range of equipment for agricultural chores.

From Unmanned Systems Magazine: Robots and Drones: Farm Workers of the Future?

The agricultural industry is experiencing labor shortages in various parts of the United States today, and some growers and producers are turning to robots and drones to help keep their farms and greenhouses viable.

The agency found that 48 percent of crop workers surveyed indicated they were not legally authorized to work in the U.S. — a slight reduction from the peak of 54 percent in 1999- 2001.

In California, farm employers are facing major labor challenges, “including new heat safety regulations and requirements to pay piece-rate workers for breaks at their average piece-rate earnings,” according to a 2016 report by UC Davis agricultural economist Philip Martin.

This system analyzes the fruit one by one, “and it is responsible for ordering cutting movements that guarantee accuracy, smoothness, and sensitivity in the strawberry treatment.” Sixteen robotic arms cut and take the fruit, placing it on a conveyor where a human worker places it in its package.

Using sensors and behavior-based robotics, the HV-100 is in charge of spacing and aligning potted plants when they are potted, when they begin to grow, when they need to be protected from incremental weather, when the season changes and when they are ready for shipment.

But when you account for the costs of management supervision, employee benefits, workers compensation and the robot’s ability to work longer hours with fewer mistakes, the robot pays for itself in about two years, depending on the job, he says.

Even with a move like California has done to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour, some of our customers still have a huge challenge in just labor availability.” California last year passed a law to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and while this has helped attract more people to jobs in the agricultural industry, the shortage of workers persists.

“That was a big challenge, but I was able to convince enough of them to part with their money that we were able to get the product developed.” Grinell says it helps that greenhouse and nursery growers operate year-round, while many other agricultural crops are seasonal.

For example, the company markets its drone imaging system to plant breeders to collect data over field plots using sensors and a multispectral camera system to collect and analyze data, Blue River Senior Systems Engineer Matt Colgan says.

“Operation of the robots may offer a direct cost reduction, a management cost reduction, and also a yield increase.” LettuceBot uses machine learning to identify the plants and precisely trim each head of lettuce.

Colgan says the technology, by directly targeting the weed, reduces the use of pesticides by 90 percent compared with aerial pesticide spraying, usually conducted by an airplane at a cost of $1,000 an hour.

The agriculture industry is a long way from full automation, and some of the smaller crops may have a tough time financing it, but major growers and breeders are realizing benefits from automation not only in reduced labor costs over the long-term, but potentially much higher yields.

Robotics: A new generation of agricultural equipment promises to take more of the toil out of farming by automating the business of growing fruit

IN THE early 1830s, spurred on by his hatred of sweaty field work, Cyrus McCormick took an idea his father had been working on at the family farm in Virginia and produced a mechanical reaper.

With one person riding the horse that pulled the reaper, and another raking the cut stalks off the back, the machines could harvest as much grain in a day as a dozen men breaking their backs with reaping hooks.

Development continued: today a driver in the air-conditioned cabin of a combine harvester may be guided by satellites as he cuts, threshes and pours clean grain into a fleet of accompanying trailers.

One machine, the New Holland CR9090, holds the record after harvesting a colossal 551 tonnes of wheat in just eight hours from a farm in Britain in 2008.

Given that such machines cost around £350,000 ($580,000), agricultural automation must make economic sense—because farmers don't spend money on frivolities.

Seasonal demand adds to the problems: in California, where some 450,000 people, mostly immigrants, are employed on fruit farms at the peak of the harvest, growers often leave some produce to rot.

Just as the mechanical reaper transformed the economics of cereal farming, a new wave of agricultural automation promises to do the same in other areas of horticulture.

Automating factories is easier than automating farms, which are far less predictable environments: the weather constantly changes, the light alters, the ground can turn from grass to mud, and there are animals and people wandering around.

Crop-tending robots that use vision systems, laser sensors, satellite positioning and instruments to measure things like humidity can build up a database of information about each plant.

A “smart sprayer” can then deliver precise amounts of chemical to only those plants that require attention instead of spraying an entire field.

When a tomato is identified as being ripe, the robot uses its vision system to locate the fruit on the vine and pick it with a mechanical arm.

Growers, sometimes using varieties that reach optimal sugar levels earlier, slice the canes holding the bunches of grapes so they begin to dry while still on the vine.

The university reckons the traditional hand-harvesting method cost $494 an acre in 2006, compared with $282 an acre in 2008 for the mechanised continuous-tray method.

Newly planted vineyards could be even more efficient by using a higher density of vines trained to grow over trellises designed to help with mechanical severing and harvesting.

Supermarkets, for instance, like uniformity so if they want, say, apples of a certain size and in a particular state of ripeness, a farmer could use the model to identify exactly where such apples are growing.

To compete with hand-picking, robot harvesters will need to twist, pluck, cut or suck produce from stems and handle it as gently as possible.

They rely on machine vision to determine when individual berries are ripe, cutting them from the plant and holding them with a gentle suction as they transfer them to a conveyor belt or basket.

Mechanised agriculture

Peak tractor sales in the US were around 1950.[6] In addition to saving labour, this freed up much land previously used for supporting draft animals.[7] The greatest period of growth in agricultural productivity in the US was from the 1940s to the 1970s, during which time agriculture was benefiting from internal combustion powered tractors and combine harvesters, chemical fertilisers and the green revolution.[8] Although farmers of corn, wheat, soy, and other commodity crops had replaced most of their workers with harvesting machines and combines enabling them to efficiently cut and gather grains, growers of produce continued to rely on human pickers to avoid the bruising of the product in order to maintain the blemish-free appearance demanded of consumers.[9] The continuous supply of illegal workers from Latin America that were willing to harvest the crops for low wages further suppressed the need for mechanisation.

As the number of illegal workers has continued to decline since reaching its peak in 2007 due to increased border patrols and an improving Mexican economy, the industry is increasing the use of mechanisation.[9] Proponents argue that mechanisation will boost productivity and help to maintain low food prices while farm worker advocates assert that it will eliminate jobs and will give an advantage to large growers who are able to afford the required equipment.[9] Asparagus are presently harvested by hand with labour costs at 71% of production costs and 44% of selling costs.[10] Asparagus is a difficult crop to harvest since each spear matures at a different speed making it difficult to achieve a uniform harvest.[11] A prototype asparagus harvesting machine - using a light-beam sensor to identify the taller spears - is expected to be available for commercial use.[11] Mechanization of Maine's blueberry industry has reduced the number of migrant workers required from 5,000 in 2005 to 1,500 in 2015 even though production has increased from 50-60 million pounds per year in 2005 to 90 million pounds in 2015.[12] As of 2014, prototype chili pepper harvesters are being tested by New Mexico State University.

The machine costs 5 million yen.[22] A new strawberry harvester made by Agrobot that will harvest strawberries on raised, hydroponic beds using 60 robotic arms is expected to be released in 2016.[9][needs update] Mechanical harvesting of tomatoes started in 1965 and as of 2010, nearly all processing tomatoes are mechanically harvested.[18] As of 2010, 95% of the US processed tomato crop is produced in California.[18] Although fresh market tomatoes have substantial hand harvesting costs (in 2007, the costs of hand picking and hauling were $86 per ton which is 19% of total grower cost), packing and selling costs were more of a concern (at 44% of total grower cost) making it likely that cost saving efforts would be applied there.[18] According to a 1977 report by the California Agrarian Action Project, during the summer of 1976 in California, many harvest machines had been equipped with a photo-electric scanner that sorted out green tomatoes among the ripe red ones using infrared lights and colour sensors.

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