Researchers Design Robot That Can Climb Trees and Harvest Coconuts

Amaran relies on a ring-shaped body outfitted with wheels to climb up and down trees, while a 4DOF robotic arm cuts bunches of coconuts.

Coconuts are not only delicious, its oil can be found in everything from popcorn to skin products, but harvesting them is no easy business, as harvesters routinely need to climb in upwards of 15 meters to gain access to the fruit. Now a group of researchers from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University’s School of Engineering has developed a robot that can harvest coconuts without the risk of falling or hurting others in the process.

In a recent paper entitled “Amaran: An Unmanned Robotic Coconut Tree Climber and Harvester,” the researchers compared the robot’s ability to that of a 50-year harvesting old veteran, wherein the human bested in overall speed, the robot came out on top in terms of endurance. The robot was designed using a ring-shaped body that can clamp around trees of varying diameter. It’s also outfitted with eight wheels, a series of motors, a power management unit, a control module, and a wireless communications interface.

The wheels allow the robot to travel up and down a tree, as well as rotate around its trunk. Amaran is operated wirelessly using an app or joystick. Once it approaches the coconuts, the controller can deploy a 4DOF robotic arm to cut each bunch, where they then fall harmlessly to the ground without hurting anyone in the process. As a safety precaution, if the robot’s main battery dies, a backup powers the robot until it can safely climb back down.

The researcher’s field tested Amaran and found it was capable of climbing trees up to 30 degrees from its vertical axis, and then paired it against a human at how fast it could harvest coconuts on trees that ranged from 6.2 to 15.2 meters in height. Results showed it took the human 11.8 minutes to harvest one tree, while Amaran accomplished the same task in 21.9 minutes, although 14 of those were dedicated to setting up the robot at the base of the tree before it could begin climbing. While humans are indeed faster, the researchers found that an average human could harvest 15 trees per day before fatigue set in, while Amaran could harvest up to 22, as long as the operator doesn’t get tired.

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