The University of Hohenheim introduces an intelligent robot to maintain orchards

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The new project of The University of Hohenheim undertakes the task of caring for valuable biotopes, especially orchards in Central Europe. To facilitate the growth of the orchards while at the same time giving them an economic edge, the project will provide support with the help of artificial intelligence.

Dr. David Reiser from the Institute for Agricultural Engineering is working on developing an autonomous robot that will largely take over tree pruning independently in the future; pruning is something that ensures healthy growth in trees, and this will deal with exactly that.

As per the report, orchards serve to protect species, soil, and water and act as a climate compensation and as a gene reservoir for around 3,000 types of fruit in Germany alone. This, coupled with the fact that the orchards are home to a plethora of animal species, only furthers its importance.

The report on the university project also cites “…orchards, mainly in processed form, are also of economic importance: for the most important branch of production, apple juice production, the orchards in Germany deliver between 500,000 and a little over a million tons of apples, depending on the harvest year.”

To ensure healthy growth, pruning becomes necessary which more often than not, requires the presence of humans. The Hohenheim agricultural technician Dr. Reiser along with the doctoral student Jonas Straub and the research assistant Jonas Boysen developed an autonomous robot.

“With the help of the robot, we want to help the trees stay healthy and alive for as long as possible,” says Dr. Reiser.

The three scientists have mounted an additional robotic arm on an existing mobile prototype that can move freely in all directions. “While the robot drives around the tree, we record its three-dimensional structure using a so-called LiDAR scanner.

Similar to radar, a laser scans the environment and measures the distance to the objects. From many individual distance measurements, a point cloud is then created in the computer that depicts the three-dimensional structure of the tree, ”explains Dr. Reiser.

He further adds, “We are currently working on teaching the computer where the robot should place the saw. Tree pruning is a science in itself, you could almost speak of philosophy.”

However, the robot still has to be controlled manually for individual trees and interfaces, and each kind of tree requires different kinds of pruning techniques. The user should be able to choose between different options soon.

However, the long-term goal is to let the robot work completely autonomously on a meadow orchard and cut branches back up to a height of seven meters.

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