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Crop picking robot ‘Tarzan’ inspired by sloths

Engineers have long wanted to build robots to lighten the load of the fruit picker. But it has proven no easy task. Robots that walk or roll along the ground can trample delicate plants. And they can get bogged down when rain turns fields muddy. “Tarzan,” however, could overcome some of those challenges, as this robot swings through the air.



Jonathan Rogers is a robotics expert at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. When it comes to a farm environment, he realized, many robots would face a number of problems. “They tend to get tangled. They tend to get stuck. It’s very hard to leave them out for long periods without a human assisting them.”

That’s when inspiration hit him: What if the robot could move above the crops? After all, he realized, “Sloths move from tree branch to tree branch to avoid having to walk around the forest floor.”

Inspired, his team set out to design a robot that could swing hand-to-hand along wires suspended above a field. He named their invention Tarzan, after the jungle-swinging character.Swinging is an energy-efficient motion. With that efficiency, a robot like Tarzan work out in a field for months at a time, without needing to be recharged.

Rogers first envisioned that Tarzan could be used to monitor crops with sensors and cameras. But future versions could deliver water to a particular thirsty plant or fertilize one that needs a nutritional boost. Adding a third “hand” could allow such an automaton to harvest fruits and vegetables.

Sciencenewsforstudents.org quoted Rogers as saying that the next step is to test the robot in the field. “We really want to get this robot crawling around networks of cables.”

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