Desinging the robot
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Possibility for high diversity in seeds
- Easy to add growth enhancers (e.g. compost)
- High variability to keep “natural” looks
- Seeds vulnerable for animals
- Seeds vulnerable for weather effects
- Low hatching rate due to seeds being placed in suboptimal places