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Robotics in Greenhouse Horticulture: A Review

In a recent article published in the journal Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, researchers from Spain explored the state of the art in greenhouse horticulture robotics. They reviewed numerous studies to provide an overview of the current advancements and applications of robotics in greenhouse environments.

Robotics Transforms Greenhouse Horticulture
Study: Robotics Transforms Greenhouse Horticulture. Image Credit: Suwin66/Shutterstock.com

Background

Robotics has the potential to revolutionize the agricultural industry by increasing efficiency, lowering labor costs, and improving crop quality. This is particularly true in greenhouse horticulture. Greenhouses provide an ideal environment for plants by controlling temperature, light, and humidity, allowing for year-round crop production with less water and land use compared to traditional farming.

However, managing a greenhouse involves a lot of manual labor, such as planting, watering, and harvesting. By using robots, farmers can address labor shortages and perform repetitive tasks quickly and accurately, thus increasing overall productivity. For instance, robots can plant seeds, water plants, and pick ripe fruits and vegetables without causing damage. This not only saves time but also ensures consistent quality.

Moreover, robots equipped with advanced sensors and artificial intelligence can monitor plant health and growth, detecting issues early on. This enables farmers to take timely action, preventing crop loss and improving yield. Integrating robotics into greenhouse horticulture can, therefore, provide significant benefits to the agricultural industry.

About the Research

In this review, the authors provided a comprehensive overview of research in the field of greenhouse robotics. They employed the preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA) guidelines updated in 2020 (PRISMA 2020) to conduct a literature review, identifying 330 publications up to 2023, with 257 included in the study. They primarily focused on identifying the features, terminology, context, applications, and scope of robots in greenhouses.

The researchers utilized a combination of filters and keywords, such as "robotics," "robot," and "greenhouse," to extract information from various databases, including Scopus, ScienceDirect, Google Scholar, Web of Science, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Xplore. They developed a classification terminology and a set of criteria to categorize the technologies utilized in the reviewed articles related to greenhouse robotization and organized them into five categories based on the main objectives:

  • Full robot or end-effector design: Focused on the design and development of robots and their components, including mobile platforms, manipulators, and end-effectors.
  • Perception: Examined the use of sensors and algorithms for perception tasks, such as navigation, object detection, and crop monitoring.
  • Control algorithms: Explored the development of control systems for robot navigation, manipulation, and task execution.
  • Others: This included research on the legal, economic, and social aspects of greenhouse robotics and greenhouse layout design for robot integration.

Research Findings

The outcomes revealed significant advancements in the research landscape of greenhouse robotics over the past 35 years. The authors noted that early research primarily focused on the design and development of new platforms and end-effectors. However, recent years have seen a shift towards control and perception, reflecting the increasing sophistication of greenhouse robotics.

Harvesting was identified as the most frequently addressed application due to its high labor intensity and cost. This task requires a large and skilled workforce, making it a prime target for robotization. Spraying was also crucial, as it involves exposure to harmful pesticides, posing risks to human workers. Additionally, the study emphasized the importance of sensor systems for navigation, object detection, and crop monitoring, with artificial vision being a primary focus for advancements in harvesting tasks.

The primary research areas included the design of robot platforms, perception and computer vision for tasks such as fruit detection and localization, and control algorithms for navigation, manipulation, and task execution. Some research also addressed legal, economic, and layout considerations for integrating robots into greenhouse environments.

Geographically, Southeast Asia, particularly China, emerged as a leading region in greenhouse robotics research, while Europe and the Americas had a lower presence in this field. The rapid growth of research in this area is likely driven by the increasing adoption of technology in agriculture, focusing on improving productivity, quality, and sustainability.

Conclusion

In summary, this scoping review provided a comprehensive overview of the state of the art in greenhouse robotics, highlighting significant progress over the past few decades. Its findings could effectively address key challenges in greenhouse horticulture, such as labor shortages, product quality, and worker safety. Moreover, it offers valuable guidance for companies and practitioners making technical and economic decisions about integrating robotics in greenhouses.

Looking ahead, the researchers suggested several directions to further advance agricultural automation. They recommended improving navigation and localization techniques for robots in complex greenhouse environments, developing more advanced harvesting systems to match or exceed human speed and dexterity, and exploring human-robot collaboration and multi-robot cooperation to enhance greenhouse operations.

Journal Reference

Sanchez-Molina, J, A., Rodriguez, F., et, el. Robotics in greenhouses. Scoping review. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 2024 219 (108750). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compag.2024.108750,  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168169924001418

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Article Revisions

  • May 28 2024 - Title changed from "Robotics Transforms Greenhouse Horticulture" to "Robotics in Greenhouse Horticulture: A Review"
Muhammad Osama

Written by

Muhammad Osama

Muhammad Osama is a full-time data analytics consultant and freelance technical writer based in Delhi, India. He specializes in transforming complex technical concepts into accessible content. He has a Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering with specialization in AI & Robotics from Galgotias University, India, and he has extensive experience in technical content writing, data science and analytics, and artificial intelligence.

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