Current Status of Agricultural Mechatronics in Japan
Associate Professor of Department of Precision Engineering, Graduate School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo
Farming population in Japan is decreasing and at the same time, aging. There are 3.2 million farming families and 3.8 million people are actually engaged in farming in Japan. Of all the farmers who have central roles in farms, 65% are aged 65 or older, indicating the rapid aging of farming population. On the other hand, the main farming management type in Japan is part-time farming: 70 % of all farms is 'class two' part-time farmers, who mainly earn from other than farming. Whereas 15 % is full-time farmers and the other 15 % is 'class one' part-time farmers, who earn from farming for the most part. Fig. 1 shows the distribution of farm scales and farming management types in Japan. More than 40 % of all farms whose annual incomes are higher than 20 million yen is engaged in dairying. Dairy farmers have to work quite hard, since milking requires continuous work. Thus, dairying is one of the businesses that seriously need automatization.
Fortunately, research on improving agricultural robots is active in Japan, partly thanks to the development of mechatronics. As shown in Table 1, tilling robots, harvesting robots, husbandry robots, lawn mowing robots and forestry robots are examples of outdoor robots. Research on autonomous locomotion, which is the basic technology needed for the realization of such robots, is being actively conducted. However, these robots are still in the research stage and not commercialized yet. On the other hand, tissue culture robots, grafting robots, transplantation robots, automatic milking robots and plant factory robots are examples of indoor robots. Among these robots, grafting robots for seedling production, transplantation robots and automatic milking robots have already been commercialized.
Among all these commercialized agricultural robots, the author would like to focus on milking robots. The research on milking robots has been done chiefly in Europe. Fig. 2 shows the exterior of a milking robot and Fig. 3 shows the procedure of milking. Cows enter the milking unit to feed. Since a cow sometimes enters the unit several times a day, each cow is identified to estimate the milking amount according to the time when the cow was previously milked. Then, the cow is milked after its udders are washed. After the estimated amount of milk is squeezed out, the milking cups are automatically removed from the cow.
The commercialization of milking robots was successful because the scales of dairying farms were large enough for automatization and moreover, there were needs for automatization. Further development of automated agricultural equipment is necessary to cope with aging of the farming population.
(Presented at the regular meeting on Sep. 22, 2000.)
Fig. 1 Distribution of farm scales and management styles.
稲作 Rice cropping
露地 Open cultivation
施設 Protected cultivation
その他 Other kinds of cultivation
畜産単一 Specialized livestock production
準複合 Semi mixed farming
複合 Mixed farming
2000万以上 20 billion yen +
10 - 20 billion yen
5 - 10 billion yen
1 - 5 billion yen
Less than 1 billion yen
Fig. 2 Exterior of an automatic milking robot.
Fig. 3 The procedure of milking.
Cows enter the room for milking.
Cows are selected and fed.
Udders are washed.
Milking unit is installed.
Milking device is automatically removed.
Cows go out of the room.
表1 Table 1 Technologies needed for realization of mechatronics for agriculture, forestry and fishery.
ロボットの種類 Kinds of robots
必要となる要素 Technologies needed for the realization
耕ロボット Tilling robot Autonomous locomotion, Position detection
収穫ロボット Harvesting robot Autonomous locomotion, Position detection, Detection of target position, Handling function
管理作業ロボット Husbandry robot Autonomous locomotion, Position detection, Detection of target position, Handling function
芝刈りロボット Lawn mowing robot Autonomous locomotion, Position detection
林業ロボット Forestry robot Walking, Autonomous movement, Position detection, Handling Function
組織培養支援ロボット Tissue culture robot Detection of target position, Handling function
接木ロボット、移植ロボット Grafting robot / Transplanting robot Detection of target position, Handling function, Bonding function
選果場 Fruit sorting robot Precision, Automatic detection of acidity
自動搾乳ロボット Automatic milking robot Detection of target position, Robustness
植物工場 Robots at plant factory Movement, Section, Packing of products
生命科学への応用 Possible applications to life sciences Cell-controlling pipet, Vision analysis of 3-D structure