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This paper describes our work to assure safe autonomy in soft fruit production. The first step was hazard analysis, where all the possible hazards in representative scenarios were identified. Following this analysis, a three-layer safety architecture was identified that will minimise the occurrence of the identified hazards. Most of the hazards are minimised by upper layers, while unavoidable hazards are handled using emergency stops. In parallel, we are using probabilistic model checking to check the probability of a hazard's occurrence. The results from the model checking will be used to improve safety system architecture.
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Assuring autonomy of robots in soft fruit production
Muhammad Khalid, Leonardo Guevara, Marc Hanheide and Simon Parsons
Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS), School of Computer Science
University of Lincoln, Lincoln, LN6 7TS, UK.
{mkhalid, lguevara, mhanheide, sparsons}@lincoln.ac.uk
Abstract—This paper describes our work to assure safe auton-
omy in soft fruit production. The first step was hazard analysis,
where all the possible hazards in representative scenarios were
identified. Following this analysis, a three-layer safety architec-
ture was identified that will minimise the occurrence of the
identified hazards. Most of the hazards are minimised by upper
layers, while unavoidable hazards are handled using emergency
stops. In parallel, we are using probabilistic model checking
to check the probability of a hazard’s occurrence. The results
from the model checking will be used to improve safety system
architecture.
Index Terms—agricultural robotics, human-robot interaction,
hazard analysis.
I. INTRODUCTION
The UK food supply chain network, from farm to fork, has
an average total worth of £108 billion every year and employs
around 4 million people (close to 12% of the workforce). The
current relatively low level of productivity can be enhanced
using Robotics and Autonomous System (RAS) [3]. RAS, in
combination with other digital technologies, can have a very
positive impact on overall food production by enabling higher
production [4]. This is because RAS can work for longer than
human workers, and can deal with weather conditions that
humans find unpleasant [5]. This increased productivity means
that the use of RAS could potentially add £58 billion to the
food sector of the UK economy [5]. In the current, post Brexit,
scenario in the UK, the food production industry anticipates,
and indeed has already experienced, a shortage of labour. This
has led to increased demand for RAS equipment [2] while also
meaning that, unlike in other sectors, there is no significant
danger of increased automation displacing human workers.
Soft fruit makes up 21.3% of the value of all the fruit and
vegetables grown in the UK, with strawberries contributing
almost 12.5% (£274 million). Soft fruit is thus an important
part of the horticulture sector in the UK. Soft fruit production
is also very labour-intensive — see for example [1] —
and these higher labour costs, compared to other areas of
horticulture, mean that RAS can be particularly beneficial. It
is for these reasons that we are focussed on the use of robots
in soft fruit, particularly strawberry, production.
The use of RAS can increase production, but for the
near future, RAS in soft fruit production will have to work
alongside humans, and in the agricultural environment [5]
this means that there is considerable risk. We believe that the
This project is supported by the Assuring Autonomy International Pro-
gramme, a partnership between Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the Univer-
sity of York (2020-2022).
Fig. 1: A Thorvald robot as used in our work
risks involved in using RAS for soft fruit production can be
minimised by through a process of hazard identification and
mitigation, and that is the work that we are engaged in.
II. OVE RVIEW
Our work is designing techniques that can contribute to the
safe autonomy robots that assist in strawberry production, par-
ticularly focusing on safe human-robot interaction. The robots
used in this work are Thorvalds, robots that are medium-sized,
see Figure 1, but large enough to potentially cause damage to
a human co-worker.
We are focusing on four scenarios in a farm setting that is
sketched in Figure 2:
UV treatment: Robots deploy UV light to kill powdery
mildew. The UV treatment is performed at night time
when there are no farm workers in action. As UV light
is dangerous for humans no humans should have access
to the polytunnels where the plants are during the UV
treatment. There is no close interaction with the robot
during UV treatment.
Logistics: Robots bring empty trays to fruit pickers,
collect full trays and take them to the collection point.
The pickers have close interaction with the robot during
logistic operations, putting full trays on robot etc.
Scouting: In scouting, the robot traverses the polytunnels
to collect data (photos of plants) using RGB cameras.
This data helps in predicting yield, making treatment
decisions and helping to plan harvesting.
Automated picking: The robot, equipped with a picking
arm will be used either for fully automated picking or
work alongside other pickers. The robot may come in
close interaction with a human during fruit picking.
polytunnels
robot shed
control centre
(remote)
collection
point
footpaths
footpaths
footpaths
Fig. 2: The major components of a typical fruit farm.
III. PROG RE SS
A. Hazard analysis and mitigation
The first step in our work was to identify all hazards in the
four scenarios and categorise them [7]. Having identified the
hazards, we could start to design mitigation strategies to avoid
the hazards or, at least, minimise their occurrence. It quickly
became clear that mitigation would depend upon three key
functionalities — the ability to detect people, identify their
intentions and predict their motion [6].
B. Functionalities
Detecting the presence of humans is the keystone of safety
in a farm context. While the robots are equipped with a
mechanical stop, meaning that they will not hurt a human
co-worker through collision, activating this will shut the robot
down, hurting efficiency. Detecting people at range using 2D
and 3D LiDAR will allow the robot to perform a more graceful
avoidance, meaning the mechanical stop does not need to
be invoked. In addition, in UV treatment, any human within
7m of the robot may suffer UV burns, so detection at range
is essential. Having detected people, reliably predicting their
motion allows the robot to more efficiently navigate around
them rather than stopping and waiting for them to move away,
and being able to determine human intentions — signaled
using gestures — will further improve robot efficiency.
C. Safety architecture
Assuming the ability to detect people and predict motion,
the safety architecture in Figure 3 can help to ensure safety.
The architecture is made up of three connected layers where,
each layer is designed to address safety interaction at a
different level, and higher layers aim to reduce the activation
of lower layers. The aim of layer three is to plan routes which
minimize the probabilities of interaction with human workers
which share the work space. If an interaction is detected, this
layer will re-plan in order to avoid the robot having to pause
for a long time. In case an interaction occurs, layer two in-
troduces human-to-robot and robot-to-human communication
to both make the robot behaviour more comprehensible to
the humans and to allow the robot to infer more precisely
human intentions in order to increase the fluency of planned
interactions and prevent the human and robot getting too
Fig. 3: The safety system architecture.
close to one another. When a close interaction is about to
happen, layer two is also responsible for ensuring a safety
by reducing robot speed, performing evasive maneuvers or
pausing operations. This layer relies on the human intention
inference delivered by layer three. Finally, if layer two fails
to ensure a safe close interaction, the layer one will activate
emergency stops in case of imminent physical contact. These
stops can be activated by LiDAR readings or by anomalies
detected though soft sensors mounted on the robot structure.
D. Probabilistic model checking
In order to validate and enhance the safety features of the
robot we are using the probabilistic model checker PRISM
to model the human-robot interactions as Markov Decision
Processes. The resulting probability models of each agricul-
tural scenario predict the probabilities of the failures identified
during the hazard analysis help us to assess the effectiveness
of the robot safety system architecture. This analysis will be
complemented with experiments in a soft-fruit farm setting.
IV. CONCLUSIONS
We have performed a hazard analysis on four scenarios
that span the soft fruit production process, and based on
this analysis are designing a safety system architecture that
provides a layered approach to dealing with these hazards.
Probabilistic model checking allows us to quantify the risks
faced in deployment.
REFERENCES
[1] L. Chen. Study on picking system for strawberry harvesting robots.
Beijing: Chinese Agriculture University, 2005.
[2] F. Chiacchio, G. Petropoulos, and D. Pichler. The impact of industrial
robots on eu employment and wages: A local labour market approach.
Technical report, Bruegel working paper, 2018.
[3] T. Duckett, S. Pearson, S. Blackmore, B. Grieve, W.-H. Chen, G. Cielniak,
J. Cleaversmith, J. Dai, S. Davis, C. Fox, et al. Agricultural robotics: the
future of robotic agriculture. arXiv preprint arXiv:1806.06762, 2018.
[4] J. Maier. Made smarter—review 2017. Department for Business EIS. The
Stationery Office. London, 2017.
[5] S. B. R. Maul and W. Maul. Taking control: Robots and risk, emerging
risk report. Lloyd’s of London., 2019.
[6] A. Rudenko, L. Palmieri, M. Herman, K. M. Kitani, D. M. Gavrila,
and K. O. Arras. Human motion trajectory prediction: A survey. The
International Journal of Robotics Research, 39(8):895–935, 2020.
[7] R. Woodman, A. F. Winfield, C. Harper, and M. Fraser. Building safer
robots: Safety driven control. The International Journal of Robotics
Research, 31(13):1603–1626, 2012.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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Study on picking system for strawberry harvesting robots
  • L Chen
L. Chen. Study on picking system for strawberry harvesting robots. Beijing: Chinese Agriculture University, 2005.
The impact of industrial robots on eu employment and wages: A local labour market approach
  • F Chiacchio
  • G Petropoulos
  • D Pichler
F. Chiacchio, G. Petropoulos, and D. Pichler. The impact of industrial robots on eu employment and wages: A local labour market approach. Technical report, Bruegel working paper, 2018.
  • T Duckett
  • S Pearson
  • S Blackmore
  • B Grieve
  • W.-H Chen
  • G Cielniak
  • J Cleaversmith
  • J Dai
  • S Davis
  • C Fox
T. Duckett, S. Pearson, S. Blackmore, B. Grieve, W.-H. Chen, G. Cielniak, J. Cleaversmith, J. Dai, S. Davis, C. Fox, et al. Agricultural robotics: the future of robotic agriculture. arXiv preprint arXiv:1806.06762, 2018.
Made smarter-review 2017. Department for Business EIS. The Stationery Office
  • J Maier
J. Maier. Made smarter-review 2017. Department for Business EIS. The Stationery Office. London, 2017.
Taking control: Robots and risk, emerging risk report. Lloyd's of London
  • S B R Maul
  • W Maul
S. B. R. Maul and W. Maul. Taking control: Robots and risk, emerging risk report. Lloyd's of London., 2019.