A six-armed robot for precision pollination

Stickbug, the six-armed precision pollination robotic tasked with autonomously navigating, mapping, and pollinating bramble flowers in a greenhouse. Every arm acts as an unbiased grasping agent {that a} referee oversees to resolve inter-agent conflicts. Credit: Smith et al.

Over the previous many years, dozens of animal species have develop into extinct, whereas hundreds of others at the moment are prone to disappearing. Endangered species embody numerous pollinators, together with bees and a few forms of moths, butterflies, and flies.

As pollination is a necessary step for the expansion of fruits, greens, and seeds, the extinction of those species may threaten meals safety worldwide. Some engineers have thus been attempting to develop various pollination approaches that may very well be simply applied in real-world environments.

A very promising method entails the event of pollination robots, robotic systems that may autonomously disperse pollen within the air. Regardless of their potential for the pollination of some crops, many of those robots are unable to pollinate all forms of flowers.

To beat this limitation, researchers at West Virginia University have been engaged on so-called precision pollination robots, that are designed to make use of fastidiously tailor-made methods to switch pollen to particular forms of flowers. Their newest precision pollination system, a six-armed robotic known as Stickbug, was offered in a current paper pre-published on arXiv.

“This work presents the design of Stickbug, a six-armed, multi-agent, precision pollination robot that combines the accuracy of single-agent systems with swarm parallelization in greenhouses,” Trevor Smith, Madhav Rijal and their collaborators wrote of their paper.

“Precision pollination robots have often been proposed to offset the effects of a decreasing population of natural pollinators, but they frequently lack the required parallelization and scalability. Stickbug achieves this by allowing each arm and drive base to act as an individual agent, significantly reducing planning complexity.”

Stickbug, the brand new precision pollination robotic developed by Smith, Rijal and their colleagues, builds on a robotic platform they launched a number of years in the past, known as BrambleBee. Whereas BrambleBee was discovered to efficiently pollinate flowers within the bramble household, together with blackberry and raspberry flowers, it solely has a single manipulator, which limits its scalability and will increase the time it requires to pollinate complete fields.

The workforce thus got down to develop a brand new pollination robotic that had a number of arms and will thus pollinate extra flowers directly. This finally led to the creation of Stickbug, a robotic with six robotic manipulators that may sort out completely different pollination duties independently

“Stickbug uses a compact holonomic Kiwi drive to navigate narrow greenhouse rows, a tall mast to support multiple manipulators and reach plant heights, a detection model and classifier to identify Bramble flowers, and a felt-tipped end-effector for contact-based pollination,” Smith, Rijal and his collaborators wrote of their paper.

The researchers evaluated a prototype of their robotic in a real-world experiment, inserting it in entrance of a man-made bramble plant, as flowers weren’t blooming on the time of the experiment. The robotic’s mission was to pollinate as many flowers as potential inside a 5-minute interval.

“Initial experimental validation demonstrates that Stickbug can attempt over 1.5 pollinations per minute with a 50% success rate,” Smith, Rijal and their colleagues wrote. “Additionally, a Bramble flower perception dataset was created and is publicly available alongside Stickbug’s software and design files.”

The brand new precision pollination robotic developed by Smith, Rijal and their colleagues may quickly be examined on actual crops, to validate its feasibility. Sooner or later, Stickbug may very well be perfected and launched in real-world settings, notably in environments the place pure pollinators have declined and thus harvests are scarce.

“Future work will provide subsequent experiments on live plants during the flowering season and improve flower memory and re-identification through Intersection over Union (IoU) and flower relative graph-based mapping,” the researchers wrote.

“Additionally, we plan to enhance manipulator capabilities by integrating a search function and flower load balancing, leveraging the referee to generate a global flower map to direct manipulators toward unexplored and flower-dense regions.”

Extra info:
Trevor Smith et al, Design of Stickbug: a Six-Armed Precision Pollination Robotic, arXiv (2024). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2404.03489

Journal info:

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A six-armed robotic for precision pollination (2024, April 29)
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