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Japanese make robots for farming

Photos show a blueberry harvesting robot and Plantroid.

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – More robots are being crafted to enhance agricultural activities.

Three such “walking” scientific machines were created by scientists of the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology headed by Ikuo Mizuuchi, an expert in robotics technology.

One, the blueberry harvesting robot, can judge the ripeness of a fruit based on its color, softness, and ease of being picked.

Another, the Plantroid, can carry a plant pot.

A third can identify each fruit based on the tree’s branch structure.

These advances in robotics were reported in a scientific paper titled “Applying Robotics Technologies in Agriculture – Blueberry Harvesting, Plant-Pot Robot, and Fruit Identification” presented at the ICT-Asia 2015, a regional science conference held here recently.

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The meeting on information and communication technology (ICT) was organized by the French government through its embassy headed by Ambassador Gilles Garachon and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).           

The Japanese report on robotics was authored by Mizuuchi, with Masato Yuasa, Jumpei Kuniyoshi, and Yuya Yumoto of the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. It was one of 20 presented at the plenary sessions of the ICT-Asia 2015’s four themes: climate change modeling and monitoring, ICT applications to food security, disaster risk reduction, and urban and rural informatics.

Mizuuchi said that the ripeness of blueberries cannot be judged by just the appearance, thus, farmers judge them by touching the fruits.

“Our harvesting robot is a wheeled robot with an arm. The end-effector attached to the arm can measure softness and ease of being picked,” he said.

On the Plantroid, Mizuuchi said: “We proposed a control method so that each Plantroid can move toward a sunny area without colliding with its surroundings.”

In the method, artificial potential fields are generated based on the ceiling camera view.

“We developed two types of real-life Plantroids that have sensors and wheels and performed a preliminary experiment. Our proposed method can be applied not only to a plant factory but also to a plant pot in our own homes,” the Japanese scientist said.

The third robotics technology is a fruit identification method. 

“We proposed a method to identify each fruit based on the branch structure analysis of a fruit tree by using a 3D camera and point cloud library. By our method, each fruit can be identified without attaching tags,” Mizuuchi said.

Fifty-one scientists on ICT from France, the Philippines, and 13 Asian countries attended the science forum hosted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, University of the Philippines Los Baños and International Rice Research Institute.

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