Tagalong robots follow you to know where you are going


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When Amazon introduced its home robot Star earlier this year, he first showed the robot following behind a person. It’s a simple idea that has captured people’s imaginations with sci-fi representations, such as R2-D2 and BB-8’s Star Wars, and actually, with research projects like DARPA’s robotic pack mule.

Follower robots were chosen for senseless pursuits like carrying a single bottle of water, but robots can also carry tools to a warehouse or freshly picked fruit from an orchard to a packing station. Artificially intelligent machines trained to follow people or other machines can transform the way we think about everyday objects, such as hand luggage or a set of golf clubs. Now robot follower manufacturers want to coordinate movement around the modern workplace.

Follower robots are under development since the late 90s, starting from the land and extending underwater and into the sky. The initial modules were based on following the position of a tag in a person’s pocket, but they advance deep learning Other computerized vision now they allow artificial intelligence to navigate by “seeing” the world through cameras and other sensors.

In agricultural fields, Burro offers what looks like a self-driving pallet on the body of a four-wheeled ATV that can move freely between rows of California orchards.

To train a butter robot, simply press a follow button and start walking; at the end of the path, press the button again. Using up to 20 cameras, computer vision and GPS, Burro follows you and stores your route. It can then transport the goods without assistance and communicate the route to other Burro robots.

A Burro weighs up to 500 pounds and can carry up to 1,000 pounds. Table grape growers use Burros to transport fruit from vineyard workers to people who pack the goods in shells before loading them onto trucks for transportation to grocery stores.

About 100 Burro devices are currently in operation in Southern California vineyards after three years of testing. The company hopes to quadruple that number with the help of $ 10 million in new funding completed this fall.

Burro CEO Charlie Andersen says robots have logged nearly 50,000 hours in the past five years in blueberry, blackberry, raspberry and grape fields, as well as in nurseries.

Some of the new funding will go to creating software to address the technical challenge of managing hundreds of rovers in the field. Burro is also working to integrate Bloomfield Robotics’ technology that uses computer vision and artificial intelligence to predict grape yield and monitor crops for disease or fungus. In the long term, Burro wants to provide a platform to coordinate predictive AI and moving machines for orchards and vineyards.

In addition to incorporating machine vision, Burro is testing connecting robotic arms to its pallets to cut grapes from vines so that a robot can harvest, prune and defoliate vineyards. “We are doing the gripping and cropping, but we are not doing the post-gripping, which is immensely complex and we don’t think it will be viable in commercial environments in the short term,” says Andersen.

Fruit and nut growers are increasingly incorporating computer vision into their work. Tastry, for example, uses artificial intelligence to look for combinations of grapes that they can masks smoky flavors to vineyards contaminated by fires, ea interdisciplinary team of biologists and artificial intelligence researchers working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture are looking for ways to protect vineyards from fungi that can ruin a crop.

Walt Duflock helps run a 10,000-acre farm in Monterey County California for cattle, table grapes, and other crops. He is also vice president of innovation for the Western Growers Association, a consortium of farmers that accounts for half of the fruit, vegetable and nut growing operations in the United States.

Duflock first met Burro’s founders while working as a mentor for agricultural startup accelerator Thrive. He believes automation is needed to address the labor shortage in agriculture, particularly for harvesting. Over time, he thinks robots like Burro can do away with up to 20% of farm work.


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