Created: August 18, 2021 02:42 PM
Human-robot collaboration is at the center of a project to make hydroponic crop production more efficient.
Three Hungarian companies have teamed up to develop a system that makes it safe for people to work alongside machines in the agriculture of the future.
Hydroponic systems grows plants without soil by using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent.
They use less water than conventional farming methods, so as climate change causes more frequent and increasingly severe droughts, they could become an alternative way of cultivating crops.
Automating parts of the process would make it more efficient, but researchers believe some human intervention will also be required.
The HydroCobotics project has integrated commercially available sensors with a robotic gripper to create a machine that can work with a vertical hydroponics towers.
Most importantly, the project has also developed a safety protocol to make sure the robot can work safely alongside humans.
"We are still afraid to accept collaborative robots on a larger scale. And to promote the spread of these robots we need to focus on safety and generate acceptance for the robots," says Jozsef Toth, director of business development, Hepenix Ltd.
During tests, the robot arm was able to move real and 3D printed artificial plants with success, and without injuring any human workforce.
More tests will be carried out on further scenarios, making sure that humans and cobots are able to safely work together in a robotic hydroponics environment.
The HydroCobotics project includes Green Drops Farm Ltd which manufactures hydroponics systems, Hungary's largest and most prestigious IT research institute SZTAKI (Institute for Computer Science and Control), which provided the robots for the project, and Hepenix Ltd, which builds custom machines with commercial robots.
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