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.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Food Science
- Biomedical Engineering
- Agronomy and Crop Science
- Soil Science