Welcome to Smart Agriculture

Smart Agriculture ›› 2023, Vol. 5 ›› Issue (4): 16-32.doi: 10.12133/j.smartag.SA202308006

• Special Issue--Artificial Intelligence and Robot Technology for Smart Agriculture • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Three-Dimensional Environment Perception Technology for Agricultural Wheeled Robots: A Review

CHEN Ruiyun1(), TIAN Wenbin1(), BAO Haibo1, LI Duan2, XIE Xinhao3, ZHENG Yongjun1, TAN Yu1   

  1. 1. College of Engineering, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100083, China
    2. School of Instrumentation and Optoelectronic Engineering, Beihang University, Beijing 100191, China
    3. The 54th Research Institute of CETC, Shijiazhuang 050081, China
  • Received:2023-07-31 Online:2023-12-30
  • corresponding author:
    TIAN Wenbin, E-mail:
  • About author:

    CHEN Ruiyun, E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(32171901)


[Significance] As the research focus of future agricultural machinery, agricultural wheeled robots are developing in the direction of intelligence and multi-functionality. Advanced environmental perception technologies serve as a crucial foundation and key components to promote intelligent operations of agricultural wheeled robots. However, considering the non-structured and complex environments in agricultural on-field operational processes, the environmental information obtained through conventional 2D perception technologies is limited. Therefore, 3D environmental perception technologies are highlighted as they can provide more dimensional information such as depth, among others, thereby directly enhancing the precision and efficiency of unmanned agricultural machinery operation. This paper aims to provide a detailed analysis and summary of 3D environmental perception technologies, investigate the issues in the development of agricultural environmental perception technologies, and clarify the future key development directions of 3D environmental perception technologies regarding agricultural machinery, especially the agricultural wheeled robot. [Progress] Firstly, an overview of the general status of wheeled robots was introduced, considering their dominant influence in environmental perception technologies. It was concluded that multi-wheel robots, especially four-wheel robots, were more suitable for the agricultural environment due to their favorable adaptability and robustness in various agricultural scenarios. In recent years, multi-wheel agricultural robots have gained widespread adoption and application globally. The further improvement of the universality, operation efficiency, and intelligence of agricultural wheeled robots is determined by the employed perception systems and control systems. Therefore, agricultural wheeled robots equipped with novel 3D environmental perception technologies can obtain high-dimensional environmental information, which is significant for improving the accuracy of decision-making and control. Moreover, it enables them to explore effective ways to address the challenges in intelligent environmental perception technology. Secondly, the recent development status of 3D environmental perception technologies in the agriculture field was briefly reviewed. Meanwhile, sensing equipment and the corresponding key technologies were also introduced. For the wheeled robots reported in the agriculture area, it was noted that the applied technologies of environmental perception, in terms of the primary employed sensor solutions, were divided into three categories: LiDAR, vision sensors, and multi-sensor fusion-based solutions. Multi-line LiDAR had better performance on many tasks when employing point cloud processing algorithms. Compared with LiDAR, depth cameras such as binocular cameras, TOF cameras, and structured light cameras have been comprehensively investigated for their application in agricultural robots. Depth camera-based perception systems have shown superiority in cost and providing abundant point cloud information. This study has investigated and summarized the latest research on 3D environmental perception technologies employed by wheeled robots in agricultural machinery. In the reported application scenarios of agricultural environmental perception, the state-of-the-art 3D environmental perception approaches have mainly focused on obstacle recognition, path recognition, and plant phenotyping. 3D environmental perception technologies have the potential to enhance the ability of agricultural robot systems to understand and adapt to the complex, unstructured agricultural environment. Furthermore, they can effectively address several challenges that traditional environmental perception technologies have struggled to overcome, such as partial sensor information loss, adverse weather conditions, and poor lighting conditions. Current research results have indicated that multi-sensor fusion-based 3D environmental perception systems outperform single-sensor-based systems. This superiority arises from the amalgamation of advantages from various sensors, which concurrently serve to mitigate individual shortcomings. [Conclusions and Prospects] The potential of 3D environmental perception technology for agricultural wheeled robots was discussed in light of the evolving demands of smart agriculture. Suggestions were made to improve sensor applicability, develop deep learning-based agricultural environmental perception technology, and explore intelligent high-speed online multi-sensor fusion strategies. Currently, the employed sensors in agricultural wheeled robots may not fully meet practical requirements, and the system's cost remains a barrier to widespread deployment of 3D environmental perception technologies in agriculture. Therefore, there is an urgent need to enhance the agricultural applicability of 3D sensors and reduce production costs. Deep learning methods were highlighted as a powerful tool for processing information obtained from 3D environmental perception sensors, improving response speed and accuracy. However, the limited datasets in the agriculture field remain a key issue that needs to be addressed. Additionally, multi-sensor fusion has been recognized for its potential to enhance perception performance in complex and changeable environments. As a result, it is clear that 3D environmental perception technology based on multi-sensor fusion is the future development direction of smart agriculture. To overcome challenges such as slow data processing speed, delayed processed data, and limited memory space for storing data, it is essential to investigate effective fusion schemes to achieve online multi-source information fusion with greater intelligence and speed.

Key words: wheeled robot, 3D environment perception, laser radar, vision sensors, multi-sensor fusion, autonomous navigation