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No Bees? No Problem! Meet the Robotic Kiwifruit Pollinator

Creator: University of Auckland

Country: New Zealand

Year: 2019


A groundbreaking robot designed specifically for kiwifruits pollination has undergone controlled real-world evaluation.

Status: Prototype, Research

Operation: Autonomous

Robot Type / Domain: Research, Agriculture & Forestry

Tasks: Kiwifruit Pollination

Whimsical Intro (by addoobot)

Green and yellow aren't just kiwifruit colors; they're our website's signature too! We love these zesty fruits, which perfectly match our aesthetic. Bees may be losing interest, but there’s hope—out of the hive and into high tech! Discover how this robotic pollinator isn't just buzzing around; it's leading the charge in kiwifruit pollination.

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The Core Problem with Kiwifruit Pollination

Kiwifruit exports is a big business. In New Zealand alone, the export economy for Kiwifruit is estimated to be at $4.5 billion by 2025. Farmers largely rely on insects, such as bees, to pollinate the plants. However, with ever-increasing demand, this practice may not be sustainable. This issue is particularly pressing in New Zealand where the kiwifruit industry is huge. Factors such as susceptibility to diseases, the availability of hives for pollination, and labor costs are making the traditional methods for pollination less reliable and more expensive.

A Robotic Solution for Kiwifruit Pollination

Various methods and research work have been carried out to tackle the above problem. These solutions include artificial pollination, manual pollination by workers, utilizing robotics, and drone-based solutions. However, these solutions are expensive (e.g., for artificial pollination) or very far from being commercially viable due to current technological limitations. 

The groundbreaking robotic solution shown in this post is the closest we have come to a commercially viable solution. The robotic pollinator utilizes sensors, smart algorithms, machine vision, and other technologies - with the aim of making the robot efficient and cost-effective for Kiwifruit pollination. 

The robot has undergone several improvements and upgrades. The effectiveness of the robot has been rigorously evaluated in real-world conditions across commercial orchards in New Zealand. Results showed that the robotic pollinator, equipped with the new spray nozzle and height controller, achieved a fruit-set rate just 16% below that of traditional honeybee pollination. 

Robotic Pollinator's Overview

The system comprises a mobile platform that is equipped with two pollination modules. Each module has its own nozzles, imaging module, lighting, spraying scheduler, and other technologies. Thus, each module can independently detect and track flowers, and conduct precise pollen delivery.

Two key enhancements were made to the current version of the robotic pollinator. The first enhancement is the introduction of a new spray nozzle to increase pollen delivery. The second enhancement is the development of an automated height controller to maintain optimal distance from the canopy while navigating orchards. These enhancements significantly improved the accuracy and efficiency of pollen dispersal.

The robotic pollinator utilizes various other innovative features such as controlled doses at high speeds and air blasts to clear fluid build-ups and prevent camera obstruction. Thanks to such innovations and ongoing advancements, the vision of a fully autonomous and commercially viable pollination system draws closer.

Challenges and Opportunities

This robotic solution, with its innovations and significant improvements, has shown real potential for commercial kiwifruit pollination. However, the robot's economic viability is still hindered by challenges such as high pollen consumption and an efficiency level that does not yet meet commercial-grade kiwifruit standards.

Despite these obstacles, the research represents a crucial step towards automating kiwifruit pollination. With further advancements, growers can potentially mitigate risks and ensure the continued success of the kiwifruit industry.

Technical Specifications

• For evaluation: mobile platform at 2.5 km/hr

• Fruit-set rate 16±2% below control samples

• Pollen consumption of up to 4.6 kg/ha

Number of Wheels: 4

Wheels: Standard wheels, Steerable wheels

Manipulation: arm

Spray System: The manifold comprised a single row of 21 nozzles, each 25 mm apart. The SS1504 is a standard commercial nozzle used for delivering agri-chemical sprays with a nominal 15° spray cone angle and orifice diameter of 1.3 mm.

Manifold: Custom, proof-of-concept manifold, arranging SS1504 nozzles into two rows of 21 nozzles. The manifold spanned 500 mm with an effective pitch of 12.5 mm, approximately half the diameter of a kiwifruit flower’s style-bush.

Sensors: Lidar, Stereo Cameas, LEDs. The vision system utilises a Fully-Convolutional Network (FCN) and stereo cameras for locating flowers. The two cameras are mounted 300 mm in front of the spray manifold.

Software: Ubuntu 20.04, ROS

No more specs to show.

Please visit the official website for more accurate, up-to-date, and complete information on this post. Visit website   External Link Icon

Comment by addoobot - Our Perspective

Although this robotic pollinator requires additional enhancements to be ready for practical deployment in automated kiwifruit pollination, we find its progress and current results to be quite impressive. We eagerly look forward to seeing its full potential, and never missing out on kiwifruit!

addoorable score:
10 out of 10 for innovation and tackling a real-world problem! While being 'addoorable' may not be a top priority in the farms—at least for now—we're curious to hear your thoughts. Let us know below.

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