Special Issue on Agro-Robotics
Professor & Dr., Department of Bio-mechanical Systems, Ehime University, 3-5-7 Tarumi, Matsuyama, 790-8566, Japan
TB-member and Chairman of CC on Life Support Systems, IFAC President, Society of High Technology in Agriculture
Chairman, IFAC committee in SICE etc.
The first intelligent agro-robot for tomato harvesting appeared at Tampa, Florida, in 1983. The presentation by Prof. N. Kawamura at the Department of Agricultural Engineering, Kyoto University, strongly impressed participants in the international symposium for agricultural machinery. Since then, several companies have become interested in developing intelligent agro-robots. As the one of the first, Toshiba demonstrated an intelligent robot for mass propagation in the biotechnological process at Exposition for Flowers in Osaka in 1990. In 1990, the IEEE International Workshop on Intelligent Robotics and Systems (IROS’ 90) was held at the Mechanical Engineering Research Laboratory, Hitachi Ltd., in Tsuchiura, Japan, through cosponsorship of the Robotics Society of Japan and SICE, where two agricultural robotics sessions were first organized by Prof. P. Dario, one of the editors of this journal. In 1991, the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) first conducted international workshop on Mathematical and Control Applications in Agriculture and Horticulture at Matsuyama, Japan, featuring a session for agro-robotics presenting several academic cases developed in companies including Toshiba, mentioned above. Several types of intelligent robot were introduced to agricultural applications as agro-robots. Agricultural machinery has a long history, with tractors and combines the main mechanized targets and far from intelligent robot. Highly advanced industrial technology including robots for factory automation widens field applications to new areas in agriculture and agricultural production must consider new labor based on the declining number of farmers in agriculture. New needs of agriculture are being covered by highly advanced engineering-technology developed in manufacturing plants, and it is to be noted that fruitful cooperation has begun in the new field liking industrial and agriculture technology, well demonstrated by the papers in this special issue. The first and second papers, by Tokunaga et al. and by Ogasawara et al., are from the high technology engineering project, Faculty of Engineering, at Kumamoto University, supported from 1994 to 1996 by the Science and Technology Agency, Japan. A watermelon harvesting robot developed as a new target has never been applied in industry. This research is not very important for developing new engineering in robotics and extremely useful in agricultural application. The third and fourth papers, by Noguchi et al. and Yamashita et al., are from engineering in agricultural machinery in interesting research on transportation robots. Prof. Noguchi and his group at the Department of Agricultural Engineering, Hokkaido University, presents a dramatic example of mobile agro-robotics in the field, while Prof. Yamashita, of the Department of Biomechanical Systems, Ehime University, and Prof. Sato developed a vehicle for greenhouse automation anticipating the new agriculture of the 21st century. The fifth paper, by Arima et al., is from agricultural machinery engineering in typical agricultural machinery firms in Japan. The cucumber harvesting robot was developed by ISEKI & Co., Ltd. The sixth paper, by Kobayashi et al., is from the Institute of Agricultural Machinery, BRAIN, and describes a grafting robot. The seventh paper, by Kondo et al., is agricultural machinery engineering involving to the intriguing technology of cutting robots. A chrysanthemum cutting robot is developed for biotechnological applications. Kondo is regarded as an up-and-coming young leader in IFAC activities. The eighth paper, by Dr. Hayashi, is involves agricultural machinery engineering in typical agricultural machinery firms in Japan. It introduces an automatic milking system developed by Kubota Co., Ltd. in cooperation with the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Engineering, The Netherlands (IMAG-DLO). The ninth paper, by Dr. Yamada, involves agricultural machinery engineering in typical agricultural machinery firms in Japan, and introduces a transplanting robot developed by Yanmar Agricultural Equipment Co. Ltd. The final paper in this fascinating series is by Prof. H. Murase, who chairs the Technical Committee on Intelligent Control in Agricultural Automation, IFAC, has encouraged engineering for system control in agricultural applications since 1988, when the first working group for agricultural engineering was set up and chaired by myself. Agro-robotics has been discussed through several international workshop and symposium sponsored by IFAC since then. Note that IFAC is one of the most active international societies in control engineering taking on all problems in any phase involving robotics, as is done by IEEE. Prof. Murase is one of the most active chairmen in the 46 Technical Committees (TCs) and presents the global scope of agro-robotics in IFAC in conclusion, which is expected to be very useful. I thank Prof. A. Shimizu of Ehime University for his important advice and the authors contributing to this issue, especially Profs. T. Inoue and S. Kawaji of the Faculty of Engineering, Kumamoto University, for their kind cooperation in different engineering fields. Last, I thank Editor in Chief, Prof. T. Fukuda, the Deputy Chief Editors, Prof. M. Kaneko, and the Editors for providing this chance to demonstrate advances in agro-robotics in this special issue, which will encourage the development of robotics in ever widening applications.
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