Meet the robotic Tarzan that monitors plant health
Tarzan Robot Swings on Cables to Monitor Crops in the Field
A two-armed robot named Tarzan, swinging along elevated cables, could allow farmers to monitor fields continuously at lower cost while avoiding interference with plants.
By John Tibbetts | Photos by Ai-Ping Hu and Jason Maderer
“Swinging – or brachiation – is an energy-efficient way to travel because gravity is doing most of the work,” said Ai-Ping Hu, a senior research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). The lightweight robot has aluminum arms and 3D-printed hands with sensors. The eight-pound robot swings back and forth with one hand on the cable, gaining momentum until its second hand detects the cable overhead and grips it. This swinging motion replicates a gibbon’s movement along a tree limb or vine.
During the second half of each swing, gravity’s downward pull slows Tarzan’s arc until the gripper engages the cable. Tarzan’s camera, housed in the payload at the joint intersection of the arms, photographs crops below, sending images to a computer for analysis. The robot swings again, gathering momentum until its other hand can grab the cable an arm’s length away. In this way, Tarzan makes its way through the entire field.
“This is a unique, emerging technology for agriculture that could provide a paradigm change in how we think about robots,” said Jonathan Rogers, an assistant professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. “It could help us move away from the single, heavy, expensive robot systems of autonomous tractors with big tires needed to navigate in difficult terrain – instead we could use small, energy-conserving robots that collaborate among themselves and with people. Small robots like this do not require a lot of energy, allowing them to be in the field 24/7 without people telling them what to do.”