My lab’s research revolves around the mechanization and automation of specialty crop production. Current emphasis is on the development of methodologies and technologies that can be used to replace labor, or improve the efficiency and ergonomics of human workers.
Model-based design of mechanized orchard-harvesting systems
Fully mechanical harvesting of fresh-market fruits has remained an elusive target for the past sixty years. The technical feasibility of robotic selective fruit picking has been demonstrated – in principle – more than thirty years ago; however, incomplete fruit detection and removal and very low efficiency continue to restrict the application of this approach. Mechanical-aided harvesting using various orchard platform designs is another approach, which still suffers from inadequate efficiency gain versus platform cost, especially in traditionally trained orchards. A major obstacle towards improving current – or coming up with radically different – designs of mechanized fruit-harvesting systems, is the lack of appropriate modeling tools. We are currently building model-based design tools that will enable researchers and developers to investigate the interrelationships among orchard layout, tree canopy geometry and spatial fruit distribution, the mechanics of picking platforms and actuators, and the ergonomics of personnel-carrying orchard platforms. Such tools can accelerate the development of next generation orchard mechanization and automation systems.
Human-robot collaboration and multi-robot coordination
Given the fact that robots cannot currently replace human perception and dexterity in many agricultural operations (e.g., harvesting, pruning), one alternative is to investigate the design of advanced autonomous machines that work together with agricultural workers in the field to improve labor efficiency and human factors. An important challenge in this area relates to developing mechanistic models of agricultural worker activities, so that advanced machines can monitor these activities and adapt their operations accordingly. Another challenging issue is how autonomous agricultural vehicles can coordinate and collaborate in order to improve field and orchard logistics while guaranteeing human and equipment safety.