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Mechanical Engineering. 2018;140(06):S4-S8. doi:10.1115/1.2018-JUN-4.
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In this work, coverage of agricultural fields using a team of autonomous unmanned ground robots with no human intervention is investigated. To this end, field is first represented by a topological mapandthenadistributedenergy-awaredeployment strategy is proposed to optimally distribute robots with the aim of persistent monitoring of specified regions of interest. When a robot participating in the coverage task approaches a low energy reserve, the team of robots collectively and cooperatively adjust the coverage formation to allow the agent to return to a designated base station, where it can recharge before rejoining the effort. Preliminary (simulation) results are provided to show the effectiveness and capabilities of the proposed coverage algorithm.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2018;140(06):S9-S13. doi:10.1115/1.2018-JUN-5.
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In order to take full potential of robots in the agriculture, there is a need for robots that can operate across different domains and infrastructure. Agriculture is extremely diverse and no two farms are the same, so robots need to be able to adapt to a wide variety of farm layouts. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, there is great variation in the way the robot needs to loco mote, for example in muddy fields, concrete floors, grassland, or rails, just to mention a few. Secondly, spacing between the plants vary, so the size of the robots also needs to be adjustable depending on the farm layout as some farms can only fit smaller robots while other farms need larger robots for more efficient operation. In this paper, we therefore present a completely modular robot that can be configured to operate in all these environments. The robot can be assembled to different modes of locomotion and the size can be changed depending on the farm specifications. In addition, the robot software is developed so that it automatically takes the shape and the size of the robot into account in the kinematics and control.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2018;140(06):S14-S18. doi:10.1115/1.2018-JUN-6.
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The soft fruit industry is facing unprecedented challenges due to its reliance of manual labour. We are presenting a newly launched robotics initiative which will help to address the issues faced by the industry and enable automation of the main processes involved in soft fruit production. The RASberry project (Robotics and Autonomous Systems for Berry Production) aims to develop autonomous fleets of robots for horticultural industry. To achieve this goal, the project will bridge several current technological gaps including the development of a mobile platform suitable for the strawberry fields, software components for fleet management, in-field navigation and mapping, long-term operation, and safe human-robot collaboration.

In this paper, we provide a general overview of the project, describe the main system components, highlight interesting challenges from a control point of view and then present three specific applications of the robotic fleets in soft fruit production. The applications demonstrate how robotic fleets can benefit the soft fruit industry by significantly decreasing production costs, addressing labour shortages and being the first step towards fully autonomous robotic systems for agriculture.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2018;140(06):S19-S23. doi:10.1115/1.2018-Jun-7.
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The Earth is at a sociotechnical crossroads with humanity hanging in the balance – and high-tech agriculture can help bail us out. Human population growth, increasing urbanization and rising incomes is likely to drastically increase demand for animal agriculture in the coming decades. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts the need to double global food production by 2050 as the global population increases from 7.3 billion in 2015 to 9.7 billion in 2050 as shown in Fig 1. Much of this growth will be concentrated in the world’s poorest countries where standards of living are set to rise rapidly, increasing the demand for resource-intensive meat and dairy products which has been the historical trend. At the same time, agriculture in the 21st century faces multiple challenges: it must produce more food and fiber to feed a growing population with a smaller rural labor force, produce additional feedstocks for a potentially huge bioenergy market, contribute to overall development in the many agriculture-dependent developing countries, adopt more efficient and sustainable production methods, and adapt to climate change. Additionally, the world’s arable land is already fully employed and shrinking -- the world has lost a third of its arable land due to erosion or pollution in the past 40 years. All these factors put enormous pressure on improving the production efficiency of the world’s supply of food to meet the demand.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2018;140(06):30-35. doi:10.1115/1.2018-JUN-1.
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Maintaining grid stability is a challenge as utilities rush to add renewable power to their generating portfolio. The business case for renewables is undeniable: as prices for wind turbines and solar panels keep dropping and the costs of installation go down, renewable electricity becomes some of the cheapest power available. But the inherently inconsistent nature of solar and wind energy has grid operators looking for new ways to seamlessly integrate their output into the system. This challenge is being faced around the world, and in the U.S. it is playing out initially in California.This article takes a closer look at the steps California is taking to smooth out the duck curve, a graph of power production over the course of a day that shows the timing imbalance between peak demand and renewable energy production.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2018;140(06):37-41. doi:10.1115/1.2018-JUN-2.
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This article provides the latest trends in the gas turbines market and their future outlook. The last three years of operation have generated more profit for the commercial airline industry than the previous 30 years combined. That money has led to new orders for commercial aircraft and as a result, production of commercial aviation gas turbines is in full swing. Engine manufacturers such as Pratt&Whitney, Rolls-Royce, General Electric, Safran, and others have taken this surge in orders as an incentive to develop new technology. The launch of a new jet engine by a manufacturer can be a multi-billion dollar effort. Financial projections and executive careers hang on a smooth roll-out of the new technology.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2018;140(06):42-47. doi:10.1115/1.2018-JUN-3.
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This article highlights why manufacturing companies need to understand that they need core competencies in both the physical and digital realms to stay viable. Traditional original equipment manufacturers are well aware that their companies are ripe for disruption. Google did not need a press to upend the newspaper and magazine publishing industry. Netflix didn’t change one physical aspect of the DVD. These tales inevitably highlight how strong, successful manufacturing giants were taken down by young disrupters like Uber, Google, SpaceX, and Netflix. These companies, and others like them, changed the direction of entire industries. The stories serve as an inspiration for budding entrepreneurs and, increasingly, a warning for even the most competitive manufacturers.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster

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