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Archie Jnr: The Rise of Autonomous Robotic Cane Pruning

Creator: University of Auckland

Country: New Zealand

Year: 2023


Discover Archie Jnr, the cane pruning mobile robot that's redefining precision and efficiency in cane pruning amidst growing labor challenges

Status: Prototype, Research

Operation: Autonomous

Robot Type / Domain: Research, Agriculture & Forestry

Tasks: 3D Visual Construction, 3D Models, Robotic Cane Pruning

Whimsical Intro (by addoobot)

Go big or go home. Okay, maybe not as big as the colossal bot in the image, but one that conquers each vine row with precision and efficiency. Explore what this gentle giant, Archie Jnr, is all about.

Learn More

Mastering the Art of Vine Pruning

Cane pruning is a method used to optimize fruit production and overall vine health. Every year, some of the best one-year-old vine canes are strategically selected, and the remaining canes are removed. The selected healthy canes are then cut back to include a limited number of buds. In doing so, the timing is important, typically in late winter. 

By keeping only some of the healthy canes, the idea is to strengthen these selected canes and to provide the vine with conditions that better support its growth, such as improved sunlight penetration and increased air circulation around the remaining fruit. Thus, if done correctly, cane pruning will result in better quality and a larger quantity of grapes.  

Navigating Labor and Physical Challenges in Cane Pruning

Cane pruning is no easy task: the mastery of pruning requires skill and experience which comes with considerable time and training. However, not many are willing to put in the effort to achieve this skill. Not only is the job physically demanding and tedious, but it is also seasonal. This makes it unattractive to the majority of workers seeking a stable and continuous source of income, especially if considerable effort is required to learn the new skill. These issues are contributing to the scarcity of skilled labor, which is troublesome to farmers as the demand is on the rise in New Zealand and around the globe. 

Revolutionizing Vine Care with Robotic Pruners

The growing demands and the need for scaling the operations mean that more skilled labor is required. But when there is a significant shortage of skilled labor, robotic solutions become very attractive. Robotics in agriculture can enhance productivity, consistency, and efficiency. Take robotic cane pruning as an example: such robots can be trained to be consistent in their assessment of which canes to keep or prune when going from one vine to the next. The robots can also be deployed on demand, and with ongoing advancement, they have the potential to outperform human workers in terms of accuracy, efficiency, and operation cost. Additionally, robots can operate in various lighting conditions and weather, improving the efficiency of cane pruning significantly.

Archie Jnr: The Future of Robotic Pruning

Archie Jnr is an advanced robotic platform that is designed to prune grapevines autonomously and with high precision. The robot platform straddles the vine rows, which means it can access the vine from both sides. The robot platform also features UR5 robot arms on either side, equipped with stereo cameras, to scan, detect, map, and prune the vine canes. The straddle design mitigates issues like sunlight glare and wind effects, enhancing the cameras' detection capabilities.  

Enhancing Pruning Accuracy with Archie Jnr's Vision System

What makes Archie Jnr a promising solution to the cane pruning problem is its vision system. Artificial Intelligence (such as deep neural networks) and other algorithms are devised to generate accurate 3D models of each vine and to identify and assess the health and structure of each cane. In doing so, a set of detailed metrics such as the diameter, orientation, and length of each cane is considered to optimize the pruning decisions. These metrics are developed in consultation with experts in cane pruning. 

The Expanding Horizons of Robotic Pruning Technology

There is no doubt several challenges need further investigation and resolution. One such challenge arises from the canes being intertwined or only partially visible, complicating the task of obtaining accurate 3D models. There are also various challenges involved with carrying out additional rigorous testing, data collection, and improving the efficiency and robustness of the overall system, which are required to scale up for commercial use. Despite these challenges, this robotic platform represents a significant advance toward the practical implementation of robotic pruning. With continued improvements, this solution holds the potential to effectively address the labor shortage and meet increasing demands. 

Technical Specifications

• 85% accuracy - capturing vine cane structure

• 3D Models accurate to within millimeters

Size: 1938L  3325W  2300H (mm)

Size: 76.299L  130.906W  90.551H (in)

Number of Wheels: 4

Wheels: Standard wheels, Steerable wheels, Differential drive

Manipulation: arm, gripper / hand

Robot Arm: UR5 robotic arm

Sensors: Stereo cameras on both sides of the platform. Basler acA244035uc USB 3.0 cameras suitable for dynamic outdoor lighting condition.

Software: Ubuntu 20.04, ROS

No more specs to show.

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Comment by addoobot - Our Perspective

This massive robotic platform for automatic cane pruning is equipped with sensors, robotic arms, and intelligence that we believe holds great promise for success, provided it receives continued improvements. Although it is still a research project and requires much work for commercial viability, the potential for success is substantial. This is especially true given the significant real-world problems (skilled labor shortage and increasing demand) it is aiming to solve.

addoorable score:
Although being 'addoorable' is not the top quality of this robotic platform, it is definitely up there in terms of novelty, usefulness, impact, and performance. What's your take on it? Let us know below.

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