Development of a robotic end-effector for apple tree pruning

A. Zahid, L. He, L. Zeng, D. Choi, J. Schupp, P. Heinemann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

Robotics and automation technologies are now used extensively in agriculture, while production operations for tree fruit crops still largely depend on manual labor. Manual pruning is a labor-intensive and costly task in apple production. Robotic pruning is a potential solution, but it involves several challenges due to the unstructured work environment. This study focused on designing an end-effector prototype for pruning considering the maneuvering, spatial, mechanical, and horticultural requirements. Branch cutting force was measured with a thin force sensor to provide guidelines for the end-effector design. The test results indicated the relationship between the force required to cut different diameter branches with an R2 value of 0.93. The end-effector was developed using two rotary motors, a pneumatic cylinder, and a pair of bypass shear blades. A three-directional linear manipulator system and a control system were built for moving the end-effector to targeted locations. A mathematical model was developed for simulation of the workspace utilization and reachable points of the end-effector. The simulation results indicated that the end-effector can be aligned in a wide range of orientations of the cutter. Field tests were conducted for validation of the simulation results and performance assessment of the end-effector. The results indicated that the end-effector with the current parameter settings successfully cut branches up to 12 mm in diameter and was able to cut branches in a wide range of possible orientations in a given 3D space. The robotic end-effector developed in this study is a core component of an automated pruning system for fruit trees. In future work, an integrated manipulator system will be developed for branch accessibility with collision-free trajectories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)847-856
Number of pages10
JournalTransactions of the ASABE
Volume63
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Food Science
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science

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