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Smart Agriculture ›› 2023, Vol. 5 ›› Issue (4): 1-15.doi: 10.12133/j.smartag.SA202312030

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

Agricultural Robots: Technology Progress, Challenges and Trends

ZHAO Chunjiang1(), FAN Beibei1, LI Jin1(), FENG Qingchun2   

  1. 1. Information Technology Research Center, Beijing Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences, Beijing 100097, China
    2. Intelligent Equipment Research Center, Beijing Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences, Beijing 100097, China
  • Received:2023-12-15 Online:2023-12-30
  • corresponding author:
    LI Jin, E-mail:
  • About author:

    ZHAO Chunjiang, E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    The National Natural Science Foundation of China(L2224049); Strategic Research and Consulting Project of Chinese Academy of Engineering(2023-JB-06-07)

Abstract:

[Significance] Autonomous and intelligent agricultural machinery, characterized by green intelligence, energy efficiency, and reduced emissions, as well as high intelligence and man-machine collaboration, will serve as the driving force behind global agricultural technology advancements and the transformation of production methods in the context of smart agriculture development. Agricultural robots, which utilize intelligent control and information technology, have the unique advantage of replacing manual labor. They occupy the strategic commanding heights and competitive focus of global agricultural equipment and are also one of the key development directions for accelerating the construction of China's agricultural power. World agricultural powers and China have incorporated the research, development, manufacturing, and promotion of agricultural robots into their national strategies, respectively strengthening the agricultural robot policy and planning layout based on their own agricultural development characteristics, thus driving the agricultural robot industry into a stable growth period. [Progress] This paper firstly delves into the concept and defining features of agricultural robots, alongside an exploration of the global agricultural robot development policy and strategic planning blueprint. Furthermore, sheds light on the growth and development of the global agricultural robotics industry; Then proceeds to analyze the industrial backdrop, cutting-edge advancements, developmental challenges, and crucial technology aspects of three representative agricultural robots, including farmland robots, orchard picking robots, and indoor vegetable production robots. Finally, summarizes the disparity between Chinese agricultural robots and their foreign counterparts in terms of advanced technologies. (1) An agricultural robot is a multi-degree-of-freedom autonomous operating equipment that possesses accurate perception, autonomous decision-making, intelligent control, and automatic execution capabilities specifically designed for agricultural environments. When combined with artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things, agricultural robots form an agricultural robot application system. This system has relatively mature applications in key processes such as field planting, fertilization, pest control, yield estimation, inspection, harvesting, grafting, pruning, inspection, harvesting, transportation, and livestock and poultry breeding feeding, inspection, disinfection, and milking. Globally, agricultural robots, represented by plant protection robots, have entered the industrial application phase and are gradually realizing commercialization with vast market potential. (2) Compared to traditional agricultural machinery and equipment, agricultural robots possess advantages in performing hazardous tasks, executing batch repetitive work, managing complex field operations, and livestock breeding. In contrast to industrial robots, agricultural robots face technical challenges in three aspects. Firstly, the complexity and unstructured nature of the operating environment. Secondly, the flexibility, mobility, and commoditization of the operation object. Thirdly, the high level of technology and investment required. (3) Given the increasing demand for unmanned and less manned operations in farmland production, China's agricultural robot research, development, and application have started late and progressed slowly. The existing agricultural operation equipment still has a significant gap from achieving precision operation, digital perception, intelligent management, and intelligent decision-making. The comprehensive performance of domestic products lags behind foreign advanced counterparts, indicating that there is still a long way to go for industrial development and application. Firstly, the current agricultural robots predominantly utilize single actuators and operate as single machines, with the development of multi-arm cooperative robots just emerging. Most of these robots primarily engage in rigid operations, exhibiting limited flexibility, adaptability, and functionality. Secondly, the perception of multi-source environments in agricultural settings, as well as the autonomous operation of agricultural robot equipment, relies heavily on human input. Thirdly, the progress of new teaching methods and technologies for human-computer natural interaction is rather slow. Lastly, the development of operational infrastructure is insufficient, resulting in a relatively low degree of "mechanization". [Conclusions and Prospects] The paper anticipates the opportunities that arise from the rapid growth of the agricultural robotics industry in response to the escalating global shortage of agricultural labor. It outlines the emerging trends in agricultural robot technology, including autonomous navigation, self-learning, real-time monitoring, and operation control. In the future, the path planning and navigation information perception of agricultural robot autonomy are expected to become more refined. Furthermore, improvements in autonomous learning and cross-scenario operation performance will be achieved. The development of real-time operation monitoring of agricultural robots through digital twinning will also progress. Additionally, cloud-based management and control of agricultural robots for comprehensive operations will experience significant growth. Steady advancements will be made in the innovation and integration of agricultural machinery and techniques.

Key words: agricultural robot, intelligent agricultural machinery, precise operation, unmanned farms, autonomous navigation