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Scientist Developing Next-Gen Robots to Harvest and Protect Crops
Scientists in Israel and Europe are working to develop highly intelligent, agricultural robots that could potentially benefit farmers and workers while helping to feed our ever-growing population. By employing several concepts, such as advanced algorithms and high-tech cameras and sensors, the engineers are developing robots with “brains” that can learn and improve from mistakes made while farming.
Yael Edan, an engineer and robotics researcher at Ben-Gurion University, said that one of their biggest challenges is addressing the robots’ ability to identify individual fruits or vegetables. Produce in its organic nature will vary in size, shape and color. It will also appear differently depending on light conditions, the time of day, and other environmental factors. Part of their solution to this problem includes the use of multi-spectral cameras to analyze wavelengths of light that bounce off objects, aiding in the robots’ ability to recognize consistent visual patterns (meaning they can identify specific fruits weather they’re upside down or right side up). They’re also working with algorithms for seeing simple shapes — when food is covered by a leaf or branch, the robot will know to switch out of the “full shape” mode and instead attempt to complete the contour of the partial shape it’s seeing.
The potential benefits of employing autonomous agricultural robots include protecting human workers from the harmful effects of chemicals and reducing a farm’s need for pesticides by up to 80%. The robots would also give farmers instant access to labor during the short periods of time when harvesting crops is the only concern. Quoted from Emily Sohn‘s Discovery News article “Robots on the Farm“, Bernie Engel an agricultural engineer at Purdue University, explains “In many cases, there are challenges finding labor to do some of the harvesting of strawberries and other fruits and vegetables. It’s hard work. There’s a timeliness factor, where you can’t wait a week. You need lots of labor for fairly short periods of time, which creates real challenges for keeping people employed in a sustainable manner. If you think about the global population at this point and the need to feed a growing population,” he added, “we have to get more efficient at the harvesting and production of these crops.”
Photo © Joe Nicora
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