A Hybrid Cable-Driven Robot for Non-Destructive Leafy Plant Monitoring and Mass Estimation using Structure from Motion

Gerry Chen, Harsh Muriki, Cédric Pradalier, Yongsheng Chen, Frank Dellaert

We propose a novel hybrid cable-based robot with manipulator and camera for high-accuracy, medium-throughput plant monitoring in a vertical hydroponic farm and, as an example application, demonstrate non-destructive plant mass estimation. Plant monitoring with high temporal and spatial resolution is important to both farmers and researchers to detect anomalies and develop predictive models for plant growth. The availability of high-quality, off-the-shelf structure-from-motion (SfM) and photogrammetry packages has enabled a vibrant community of roboticists to apply computer vision for non-destructive plant monitoring. While existing approaches tend to focus on either high-throughput (e.g. satellite, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), vehicle-mounted, conveyor-belt imagery) or high-accuracy/robustness to occlusions (e.g. turn-table scanner or robot arm), we propose a middle-ground that achieves high accuracy with a medium-throughput, highly automated robot. Our design pairs the workspace scalability of a cable-driven parallel robot (CDPR) with the dexterity of a 4 degree-of-freedom (DoF) robot arm to autonomously image many plants from a variety of viewpoints. We describe our robot design and demonstrate it experimentally by collecting daily photographs of 54 plants from 64 viewpoints each. We show that our approach can produce scientifically useful measurements, operate fully autonomously after initial calibration, and produce better reconstructions and plant property estimates than those of over-canopy methods (e.g. UAV). As example applications, we show that our system can successfully estimate plant mass with a Mean Absolute Error (MAE) of 0.586g and, when used to perform hypothesis testing on the relationship between mass and age, produces p-values comparable to ground-truth data (p=0.0020 and p=0.0016, respectively).

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