According to Germany’s Hohenheim University, about 80% of the fruit trees in that country are not pruned as often – despite the fact that doing so gives them a stronger structure and better disease resistance. That’s why a team at the university is building a robot to do the job.
Known as the Phoenix, the wheeled robot is being developed by agricultural technician Dr. David Reiser, PhD student Jonas Straub, and research assistant Jonas Boysen.
The plans require it to initiate each pruning job by first driving a car around a tree, performing a 3D scan using the built-in LiDAR (Light Metering and Detection) module and an optical camera. An integrated computer will then use the scan data to generate a point cloud model of the tree, showing the three-dimensional structure of its crown. Next, artificial intelligence-based software analyzes that structure, determining which branches need to be pruned to keep the crowns in optimal shape.
Finally, Phoenix automatically performs the actual pruning, using a small power saw on the top of an articulated arm to remove problem branches.
In its current prototype form, the robot must be manually guided from one tree to another by the operator using a remote control device. At the bottom, however, Phoenix will be able to automatically find its way through the orchards through a combination of onboard sensors and the GNSS module (global navigation satellite system).
You can see the Phoenix in action – despite not doing any actual pruning – in the following video.
Source: Hohenheim University (German)
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