Finger probe, voice control system, 3D printed artificial plants – developments are well under way in the HydroCobotics project launched in January this year.
In the first weeks of the 9-month research aimed at automating the hydroponics-based, environmentally friendly crop production process, the creation of a safe environment for close human-robot cooperation is in focus.
Consortium members of the project – Hepenix Ltd., Green Drops Farm Ltd. and ELKH SZTAKI – have already tested several innovations in practice.
Among other things, members are looking for a solution to how collaborative robotic arms, called cobots, can rotate and position the growing levels of hydroponic plant towers in the right position so that they can then take out the right plant. To this end, Hepenix Ltd., and Green Drops Farm Ltd. have developed a rotatable base for the hydroponic tower that can be used in an industrial environment, and additional accessories were added to the lowest level of the hydroponic tower. A bearing solution has been developed to make crop production levels rotate more easily than before. The goal of the development is to implement an easy-to-reproduce solution that allows the cobot to rotate and position crop levels easily and safely.
Green Drops Farm Ltd. has also started the design and production of a special clip that enables cobots to insert plants. The version implemented in the first phase of development was not ideal from the production point of view thus a second, updated design was chosen to be more suitable from a production and manufacturing point of view. An ongoing risk analysis for safe use is being carried out by Hepenix Ltd.
Hepenix Ltd. is also working on a finger probe that can be used in situ to measure the force and pressure values performed on a manikin – as no human experiments can be performed during the tests.
The safe joint work of humans and robots will play a key role in the HydroCobotics project. The development of the additional gripping accessories, further ensuring the exclusion of human injury, also serves this purpose. Among the consortium members, Hepenix and SZTAKI are involved in this development, while the latter is also developing advanced control solutions, which would also be implemented to create a safer human-cobot common working environment.
In the first phase of the project, SZTAKI started designing 3D printed artificial plants based on the professional instructions of Green Drops Farm. In the first tests of automated crop production, these artificial crops are used for repeatability and later, real plants from the Green Drops research farm are planted in the hydroponic system.