Desinging the robot

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Contents

Preliminary Designs

From the literature review it became evident that robotics technology used for reforestation is still in its infancy, rendering us a plethora of options to design a new robot or improve on an existing model. For this project, we've decided to focus on designing a seeding mechanism for the robot, as this is ultimately the primary functionality of the robot. Some preliminary designs have been developed conceptually focusing on different options for the seeding mechanism. Besides this a list of requirements, preferences and constraints is made upon which the designs can be judged. Using these designs and requirements, preferences and constraints an informed decision is made as to which seeding mechanism(s) will seriously be considered for actual physical development.

General information about the project can be found over at PRE2017 4 Groep6.


Requirements, Preferences and Constraints

Requirements

Clear communication - The robot must have an operating range of atleast 10 meters when using bluetooth for communication.

Long battery life - The robot must be able to continue operating for at least 60 minutes before needing to recharge.

Good field of view - The robot must be able to gain a 180 degrees field of view, either by rotating the camera or using a fisheye lense.

Speed - The robot must be able to attain a speed of at least 1 m/s.

Control - The driver must be able to operate the robot in a suitable fashion without extensive training.

Storage capacity - The robot must be able to store enough seeds to plant during the entire operating time of the robot.

Planting mechanism - The robot must have some form of planting mechanism implemented to be able to perform its function.

Planting speed - The robot must be able to plant 10 seeds per minute in optimal conditions.

Sturdiness - The robot must have a relatively low center of gravity so it can not easily be toppled during normal operation.

Stability - The robot must be able to traverse uneven terrain that can normally be found in forests.

Sensors - The robot must have some sensors to determine if the soil is suitable for reforestation.

Dimensions - The robot must be small enough to traverse areas with large vegetation.

Preferences

Autonomy - The robot can operate for a prolonged time without human intervention.

Speed - The robot can move as fast as feasibly possible.

Turning circle - The robot can have a turning circle as small as possible to rotate in crowded areas.

Solar panels - The robot can utilise solar panels to prolong normal operating time.

Sensors - The robot can utilise sensors to determine the fertility and composition of the soil.

Storage space - The robot can store multiple types of seeds to create a symbiosis between various plants.

Seed specification - The robot can process the composition of the soil to determine which plant is optimal to be placed at a certain area.

Dimensions - The robot can be relatively small to keep production costs low.

Constraints

Preliminary Designs

Drill

For many seeds, being planted into the ground, at a certain depth, is beneficial for their growth chances. To this extend, a drill would work great. Either the drill could be made hollow, so it could drill a hole and drop the seed instantly, or a separate drill and seed dispenser could be made. By assembling the drill in the middle of the vehicle, and thus most likely with a hole in the base of the vehicle, the most force could be asserted onto the drill. Even though a hollow drill would be the best functioning mechanism, it would be hard to make in practice with the limited time given, which is why two separate mechanisms seem like the obvious choice. This would mean one drill, being assembles at the middle of the vehicle, and one seed dispenser, assembled at the back of the vehicle.

This dispenser could either truly put the seeds in the ground, by for example putting the seed on the end of a stick and pushing this stick into the ground. Or, it could drop the seed into the pre-drilled hole. The latter of these two options would be easier to produce, as the location of the hole can easily be found, (using the relative positions of the drill and dispenser) and it would save an entire part going into the ground, which is deemed a difficult part. The main advantage of the method truly putting the seed in the ground is that it minimizes falling trauma for the seed, as it is gently inserted into the ground. This, however, should not be a problem for the seed, as most seeds are used to being carried by the wind, and thus falling from far bigger heights than the ones talked about here. The main advantage of using a drilling mechanism is also one of its biggest drawbacks. Using a drill, you can very specifically control where the drill is used, and thus the upcoming forest can be planned down to the centimeter (assuming all seeds do sprout). This is great, as it can make sure that all species are there in the desired ratio’s, and everything can be planted as closely as possible to the desired location. But it does add the difficulty of navigation. It is very hard for the robot to find out exactly where it is right now, and thus where it should plant. As, when a planning is made for which seed to be placed where, down to the centimeter, the robot should also be able to find its own location, down to the centimeter. This necessary feature for the robot when a drill mechanism is used, is one that is difficult to get functioning precise enough, which is why it is not the focus point of this project. If the option for a drilling robot is chosen, the navigation issue will be left for further research.

An issue that should be dealt with is the one of the drill exerting a lot of force on the vehicle. In order for the drill to truly make a hole, a lot of force needs to be applied. Even if the ground is fairly ‘soft’, the robot is not envisioned to be either very large or very heavy, meaning that the force is big, relative to the robots size. This means that if the drilling mechanism is chosen, clear attention should be paid to the force it takes to drill this hole, and what the robots weight needs to be for this not to be a problem.

An advantage this mechanism has over other mechanisms, is that it puts the seeds at a pre-determined depth into the ground, meaning that an appropriate depth can be chosen for whichever species of seed is being planted. This can be beneficial for the seeds future prospects.

A difficulty this mechanism shows is the fact that if the drill is not being used, so when the vehicles is driving, the drill sticks out at the top. This means that the vehicle is bigger than it has to be (as it has an x cm drill sticking out of it). This decreases the vehicles mobility significantly. Beyond this, the vehicle also needs to drive fairly stable, as the drill cannot fall over. This cannot be fixed by attaching anything to the drill to hold it stable, as the drill still needs to go into the ground.

Gritter

One of the possibilities to spread the seeds would be to use a gritter like structure, this would spread the seeds and optional growth enhancers without any predetermined position therefor creating an ecosystem that has the “natural” random fashion. The spreading could be done by gritter like mechanisms consisting of a funnel feeder where the seed and growth enhancer mix is fed into an impeller with shielded sides to limit the range of spreding to behind the vehicle.

Pro’s

  • Possibility for high diversity in seeds.
  • Easy to add growth enhancers (e.g. compost).
  • High variability to keep “natural” looks.

Cons

  • Seeds vulnerable for animals.
  • Seeds vulnerable for weather effects.
  • Low hatching rate due to seeds being placed in suboptimal places.

Plough robot

For seeds to develop properly, they have to be implanted into the soil to receive the necessary nutrients to develop into a tree, therefore some holes or pits need to be present or made. One such possibility for creation holes is by means of ploughing, albeit a traditional plough will turn over soil in one long uniform stretch and hence create some sort a ditch in which seeds can be sown into en masse, usually by means of machinery. Obviously, a traditional plough will not be a desired method for tree planting considering grown trees (the desired end-product of the robot operation) will take up a considerable amount of space. This method will consequently create a uniform and homogenous forest, not only hurting the biodiversity but also completely distorting the natural look of the surrounding area. Therefore, albeit a traditional plough is a very useful tool in the agriculture sector, for the purpose of a reforestation operation after a forest fire in a national park, a variation of the traditional plough will be considered. The envisioned plough will consist of a cylinder which is powered by high acceleration variable torque servos, such that the force applied to the soil can quickly be altered as to create a custom hole for every type of seed. This will result in a complex control system, however from the literature review it is evident that each seed has its own optimal sowing depth, making this a beneficial feature for the seeding mechanism to have. To promote a semi-random seeding pattern the plough will have conjugated pairs of sickles attached to the cylinder which smash the ground to locally create a hole for seeding. The sickles are in conjugated pairs in the sense that they will operate mirrored to each other, i.e. if one blade is about the smash the ground the other will be lift up in the air. Since we desired a hole to be made locally, the sickles will not be made to perfectly fit the cylinder by cutting out a circle in them as this implies the turning of the cylinder will still create strokes of ploughed land which is exactly what we do not want to accomplish. Instead an elliptical hole will be cut out from the sickles such that when they hit the ground and the robot continues to move, the cylinder will just move in the empty space left in the ellipse causing the blade to remain stationary, until the cylinder reaches the back-end of the ellipse, pulling the blade back up from the ground and leaving a hole. This method of ploughing, albeit mechanically complex also has a mechanical advantage; as halve of the total amount of sickles is suspended in the air during the total operating cycle and the sickles which strike the ground will not be pulled along it which severely reduces frictional forces and hence stresses on the materials of the robot. Because of the elliptical nature of the trajectories of the sickles around the cylinder and the steady turning rate of the cylinder ω a characteristic time τ exists between the events of the first sickle of the conjugated pair striking the ground and the second sickle of the conjugated pair striking the ground. This characteristic time along with the velocity v and the horizontal distance between sickles of a conjugated pair x gives the distance between every successively planted trees  r = \sqrt {x^{2} + {(\tau v)}^{2}} . Due to the horizontal distance x between the conjugated pairs of sickles, a linear tree pattern is eliminated as the trees will be planted in a 2D geometry. As the biodiversity requirement needs to be fulfilled, a variable turning rate ω is required to increase the torque and hence the force the sickle exerts on the ground to ensure different depths. However a turning rate increase can be done discretely such that  r = \sqrt {x^{2} + {(\tau_{j} v)}^{2}} still holds for the all tree species, albeit the characteristic time τj is now a parameter of the tree species which is being planted j. Using such a plough a pattern of trees can be planted without disrupting an entire haul of forest floor.

The seeding mechanism can either be made separately from the plough or in affiliation with it. If the seeding mechanism is made separately from the plough the robot is required to make a second run over the terrain to sprinkle the seeds in the holes or a seeding mechanism would have to made behind the plough. This is because the holes first need to have been dug before the seeds can be planted, and pulling significantly reduces the friction force the robot experiences from ploughing than pulling. Although the new design of the plough will probably allow the plough to be placed in front of the robot since pulling drag will be considerably reduced compared to a traditional plough, even though drag forces will still be present to some degree since a perfect sickle cycle will not be achievable. In the latter case the plough can be put in front of the robot and the seed dispenser in the back of the robot. If the seeding mechanism is made in conjunction with the ploughing mechanism, a seed dispenser could release a flow of seeds in between the conjugated single sickles to ensure they fall in the holes that were made just prior to the seed dropping. This method has got some disadvantages as well since allowing the seeds to flow between rotating sickles increases the odds of damaging the seeds and small imperfections in the terrain such as bumps could offset the direction in which the seeds fall on the ground, rendering them vulnerable on the unploughed soil if they fall next to the holes. A third option would be to lift the ploughing mechanism up and protrude a seeding mechanism out of the robot. Then, if this process can be made fast enough, this lifting, protruding, seeding and retracting of the seeding mechanism could take placing during the characteristic time τ such that only one run is needed to seed an area. Alternatively, the cylinder could be turned off in this process and resumed once the plough is withdrawn from the robot again. In summary:

Advantages

  • Reduction of linear pattern of tree planting to maintain natural look.
  • The plough is placed behind the robot, so any holes made will not be affected by the motion of the robot, i.e. if the plough were placed in front the robot might drive over some of the holes which were made just momentarily, which could potentially close or damage the holes and hence the seeds if they are already dispersed
  • See the first disadvantage, if the sickle mechanism will be made such that it can be flipped, which implies a modular design approach as the plough module is required to be detachable to make any changes to it, then if one side of the sickles is damaged or become dull the segment can be flipped such that the sickle at the other side can be used. Alternatively, the sickle can be made attachable to the segment spinning around the cylinder, such that a broken part can easily be taken off and a replacement can be inserted. If the robot is made modular it could potentially be reused for other functionalities if the right modules exist.

Disadvantages

  • Mechanical wear and tear will be an issue for the sickles, since they will be exerting a large force during a small time period to the ground, causing lots of stresses in the material. However, as mentioned in the third advantage by making the sickle segment flipable it could increase the lifetime of the mechanical part twofold.
  • Considering the seeding mechanism has either the option of being at the back of the robot at the expensive of the plough being in front, which could cause damage to the holes if the robot drives over them, or being swappable with the plough mechanism at the back, which would require a longer operation time of the robot to seed a given area, this method is most likely not the most efficient.
  • Of all the proposed methods in this section, this will be mechanically the most complex system to design, if not mechanically impossible.
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