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By Yasushi Hashimoto,
Haruhiko Murase, Tetsuo
Morimoto, and Toru Torii

his article describes some findings of
agricultural research studies being
conducted in Japan in three areas: 1)
artificial intelligence (AI) or computa-
tional intelligence applications in agri-
culture and the environment, 2)
intelligent environment control for plant production
systems, and 3) intelligent robots in agriculture.
First, the latest biosystem-derived algorithms are
discussed. A finite element inverse technique using
a photosynthetic algorithm (PA) is described, fol-
lowed by a comparison of neural network training by
a photosynthetic algorithm versus a genetic algo-
rithm (GA). Leaf cellular automata (LCA) are intro-
duced, and their application to optimization
problems is discussed.
Second, a decision system consisting of neural net-

works (NNs) and GAs is applied to the optimization of

plant growth under hydroponics in Japanese plant fac-
tories. In this system, plant growth as affected by the
nutrient concentration is first identified using NNs,
and then the optimal l-step set points of the nutrient
concentration that maximize the plant growth are de-
termined through simulation of the identified NN
model using GAs.
Finally, recent developments of intelligent agricul-
tural robots in Japan are described. Much research on

Hashimoto ( and Morimoto are with the Department of Bio-mechanical Systems, Ehime University,
Tarumi, Matsuyama 790-8566, Japan. Murase is with Osaka Prefecture University, Sakai, Japan. Torii is with the University of Tokyo, Tokyo
113-8656, Japan.

October 2001 IEEE Control Systems Magazine 71
automation in agriculture has also been conducted in univer- rived algorithms (BDAs) are suggested. Photosynthesis is
sities. Due to limited funding, most of this research has cov- one of the most important biochemical phenomena and can
ered methodologies such as navigation, sensing, and the be viewed as a natural implementation of an optimization. It
application of control theory. At research institutes and man- is sometimes mentioned that a plant is not optimized by na-
ufacturers, which have greater financial resources, more ture to function as an energy conversion device due to its
practical systems have been tested. Researchers are now in- low energy conversion efficiency of about 3%. Comparisons
tegrating the new technologies for autonomous navigation in are made to man-made devices such as photovoltaic cells
the field. and photoelectrochemical cells, which transform the suns
It can be concluded that intelligent approaches are use- energy into an electrical current or chemical fuels with effi-
ful tools for mechanizing complex agricultural systems. ciencies as high as 25%. This is an unfair comparison, how-
ever, because plants are under heavy
functional constraints to maintain the diverse
Photosynthesis is one of the most set of biological activities necessary for their
survival and for the preservation of their spe-
important biochemical phenomena cies. A better comparison would require that
and can be viewed as a natural only those biochemical pathways in the plant
directly related to energy conversion be con-
implementation of optimization. sidered when calculating energy conversion ef-
GAs have been extensively used in the con-
Computational Intelligence in trols field. However, the GA does not have to be the ultimate
Agriculture and the Environment optimization technique. Two different biosystem-derived
Many problems in agricultural engineering involve optimiz- optimization algorithms using the mechanism of the
ing different types of biosystems, such as drainage and irri- photosynthetic pathway were developed by one of the au-
gation systems, crop scheduling, and the handling and thors. The BDAs referred to are the PA and the LCA. In the
blending of materials. Such biosystems typically depend on
following sections, the principles of the PA and LCA are in-
decision parameters that can be chosen by the system de-
troduced briefly. The developed biosystem-derived optimi-
signer or operator. An inappropriate choice of decision pa-
zation algorithms contribute to control applications by
rameters causes serious flaws in performance, as measured
providing additional search technique options.
by some objective or fitness function. Another problem of-
ten encountered in agricultural engineering involves testing
and fitting of quantitative models. Principle of the
Engineering or scientific research in any problem area Photosynthetic Algorithm
classically consists of an iterative process of building ex- In the diagram of the Benson-Calvin cycle [3] in Fig. 1(a), each
planatory or descriptive models, collecting data, testing the line represents the conversion of one molecule of each me-
models, modifying the models when discrepancies are tabolite. Fig. 1(a) also indicates that the product of the
found, and then repeating the process until the problem is Benson-Calvin cycle is DHAP (dihydroxyacetone-P). Some of
solved satisfactorily. The problems that deal with optimiz- the DHAP, which may be unstable and/or low quality, is re-
ing biosystems and fitting quantitative models eventually used or reprocessed in the cycle. The remaining portion of
require refinement or processing using adaptive search pro- the product DHAP, which may be stable and/or high quality,
cedures or optimization techniques. There are many search stays as starch. The refined high-quality DHAP can be consid-
techniques, including exhaustive techniques (random ered the knowledge string that is conceptually equivalent to
walk), calculus-based techniques (gradient methods), par- the final form of the chromosome (solution or estimate) in a
tial knowledge techniques (hill climbing), knowledge-based GA. The Benson-Calvin cycle includes many different
techniques (production rule systems, heuristic methods), recombinations of molecules that are again conceptually
stochastic techniques (simulated annealing), and biologi- equivalent to the crossover of chromosomes in the GA. In the
cally inspired algorithms (genetic and immune system algo- PA, the crossover is regulated more strictly by the
rithms). In realistic systems, the interactions between the photosynthetic rules than the crossover operator of the GA.
parameters are not generally amenable to analytical treat- Fig. 1(b) shows the part of the photorespiratory system that
ment, and researchers must resort to appropriate search contains the Benson-Calvin cycle. The biochemical balance
techniques. Recently, genetic and immune system algo- between the Benson-Calvin cycle and photorespiration can
rithms have received considerable attention due to their be viewed as a natural implementation of an optimization
ability to locate very good solutions in extremely large procedure that maximizes the efficiency of sugar production
search spaces with reasonable computational effort [1], [2]. under the continuously variable energy of the sun. The PA uti-
It is interesting to note that if one looks carefully at plant lizes this unique natural optimization process, which is anal-
systems or phytosystems, many different biosystem-de- ogous to the mutation operator in the GA.

72 IEEE Control Systems Magazine October 2001

3 ATP product is evaluated based on a
fitness value, as obtained by calcu-
3 ADP lating the difference between the
output value of the system using
Ribose-5-P Ribulose-1, 5-P2 (RuBP)
Xylulose-5-P parameters currently given by the
3 CO2 PA and the training output data.
Sedoheptulose-7-P Fig. 3, which presents the whole
Pi process given in Fig. 1(a), shows a
flow diagram indicating the calcu-
Sedoheptulose-1, 7-P2 lation process of the PA. The pro-
cess begins with the random
6 ATP generation of light intensity. CO2
DHAP Erythrose-4-P Xylulose-5-P fixation rate is then evaluated by
(1) based on light intensity. De-
Glycerate-1, 3-P2
pending on the fixation rate, either
GAP Fructose-6-P the Benson-Calvin cycle or the
photorespiration cycle is chosen
H2O 6 NADP for the next process. In both cy-
Fructose-1, 6-P2 6Pi cles, 16-bit strings are shuffled ac-
GAP cording to the carbon molecules
DHAP GAP recombination rule in photo-
synthetic pathways. After some it-
eration, GAPs, which are
intermediate knowledge strings,
are produced. Each GAP consists
(Product or Feedback) of 16 bits. The fitness of these
GAPs is then evaluated, and the
(a) best fit GAP remains as a DHAP
Chloroplast (current estimated value). One of
the unique features of this algo-
rithm is the inherent stimulation
function. The stimulation occurs
due to randomly changing light
ADP AT Peroxisom intensity, which alters the degree
Calvin of influence on renewing the ele-
Cycle m e n t s o f R u B P b y p h o t o-
respiration. The frequency of the
stimulation cycle by photo-
O2 Glycolate-2-P
DHAP respiration can be calculated by
the CO2 fixation rate given by
Figure 1. (a) Photosynthetic pathways of Benson-Calvin cycle and (b) photorespiration. 1+ A/ L (1)

The PA uses rules governing the conversion of carbon where C = CO2 fixation rate, Vmax = maximum CO2 fixation
molecules from one substance to another in the Benson-Cal- rate, A = affinity of CO2, and L = light intensity.
vin cycle and photorespiration reactions. Fig. 2 illustrates the The parameters involved in (1) are all determinable, but
variation of recombination of carbon molecules appearing in their values can be assigned within a realistic range and need
the PA. For example, RuBP (rubilose-biphosphate) consists not be empirical. When executing the PA, the light intensity
of three sets of a 5-carbon-molecule substance that react with should be generated randomly. Alternatively, the actual light
a 3-carbon-dioxide molecule to produce five sets of a 3-car- intensity varying with time through a measuring system may
bon-molecule substance (GAP). The product of photosynthe- be used. Variation of the light intensity as a stimulant is effec-
sis, DHAP, as shown in Fig. 1(b), provides the knowledge tive in reducing the occurrence of local minima traps in the
strings of the algorithm. Optimization is attained when the search procedure. The CO2 concentration in the leaf varies
quality of a product no longer improves. The quality of a depending on the CO2 fixation rate. The ratio of O2 concentra-

October 2001 IEEE Control Systems Magazine 73

3CO2 Oxygen

Sedoheptulose-7-P +
GAP Glycerate Glycolate Glycolate Glycerate

(Benson-Calvin Cycle)
Xylulose-5-P Fructose1, 6-P

(a) (b)

Figure 2. (a) Recombination of carbon molecules in the B-C cycle and (b) photorespiration.

timation problem. Calculus-based estimation techniques
such as the least-squares and conjugate gradient are avail-
Light Oxygen/CO2 able for solving finite element inverse problems, and GAs or
(Stimulation) Concentration CO2 other BDAs may also be used. In this section, the perfor-
mance of the PA in solving a finite element inverse problem
is discussed. A cantilever beam system (5 unit length 10
unit length) is provided as a numerical example (see Fig. 5).
RuBP This finite element model consists of four linear triangular
Benson- Photo- elements. The elastic properties (Youngs modulus and
Calvin Respiration
Cycle Poissons ratio) of each element are assumed to differ.
Nodes 1 and 2 are fixed; the remaining nodes can be dis-
GAP placed freely. A unit vertical load is applied at node 4, and
the displacements of nodes 3, 4, and 5 in the horizontal and
Fitness Discard vertical directions due to the unit load are observed. The PA
Copy Poor
Good is expected to search for the optimum values of the eight un-
DHAP known elastic moduli, which are the Youngs modulus and
(Knowledge Poissons ratio of each finite element.
String) The parameters used for this test were as follows: the af-
finity of CO2 was set to 10,000; the maximum light intensity
Figure 3. The photosynthetic algorithm (PA).
varied from 10,000 to 50,000 lux (an increase in light inten-
sity implies an increasing likelihood for activating
tion to CO2 concentration is evaluated to determine the ratio photorespiration); the maximum CO2 fixation rate was 30
of the calculation frequency of the Benson-Calvin cycle to -2 -1
mgm s ; and the maximum number of cycles for the
that of the photorespiration cycle. Benson-Calvin cycle and photorespiration were 30 and 45,
respectively, per search iteration.
Application of PA to In the PA procedure, the finite element evaluation ap-
Finite Element Inverse Analysis pears in the fitness check process of the knowledge strings
The finite element method is a powerful numerical proce- (DHAP). Each of the eight elastic moduli is coded in a 16-bit
dure for solving mathematical problems in engineering and DHAP molecule. After converting them to decimal numbers,
physics. The finite element method was also employed to the nodal displacements at nodes 3, 4, and 5 are calculated
devise a spatial NN in a control application [4]. Fig. 4 illus- using the estimated elastic moduli and the given boundary
trates a possible application of the finite element NN in a conditions. The observed displacement data are compared
plant growth control system. The learning algorithm of the with the calculated output data to determine the fitness of
finite element NN is an inverse solution of a problem de- the estimates. When a set of estimates with better fitness
scribed by Poissons equation. This finite element inverse than the previous data is obtained, the best data set is
problem is simply an optimization problem or parameter es- stored in the DHAP reservoir for the next comparison. After

74 IEEE Control Systems Magazine October 2001

completing one cycle of the search
process with a predetermined fre- Z 1
quency for the Benson-Calvin cycle u( t 1)
and photorespiration, the process
then randomly generates the light in- Current Growth
y (t ) Humidity y (t )
tensity for the next iteration with a re- D
Carbon Dioxide Vegetables
newed photosynthetic frequency
Light u(t)
Root Water Potential
The observed displacements at
nodes 3, 4, and 5 are indicated in Table 1. Finite Element Structured
The negative values of Y imply that nodes Neural Network Growth Model
3, 4, and 5 are displaced downward by Z 1
the force applied at node 4. In this simula- Growth Indices
tion, the observed displacements were Growth
calculated from the predetermined elas-
tic moduli. These predetermined elastic
values are intended to be the target val-
ues in the estimation test.
The estimation of the elastic moduli
of the finite element model using the PA Figure 4. Conceptual representation of a finite element NN application to a plant growth
was very satisfactory. Fig. 6 shows the control system. y is the desired growth rate.
convergence property of the fitness. A
dramatic decline in the error level
down to 10-4 was observed in the initial ten iterations. After Load
1,000 iterations, the PA converged to a total absolute error
level of about 2.8 10 . No significant improvement was ob-
served after 200 iterations. Tables 2 and 3 summarize the 4
comparison of the estimated values of the elastic moduli
(Youngs modulus and Poissons ratio) and corresponding 4
target values. The tables show that most of the estimated val-
ues are very close to their target values except the Poissons 5
Fixed 1 3
ratio of element number 4.
2 2 3
Principle of Leaf Cellular Automata
LCA are one form of cellular automata and are an estimation Deformed 3
engine that utilizes the rules of the photosynthetic path-
ways. LCA are derived from the interaction of substances on
a leaf. They consist of two layers: the surface layer and the
inside layer, as shown in Fig. 7. The surface layer has four Figure 5. Finite element model (cantilever beam).
elements: light, stoma, CO2, and O2. The inside layer has one
element, starch, and represents a solution. LCA have two
procedures: photosynthesis and photorespiration. Photo- 8
synthesis occurs when the conditions of the elements mak- 7
ing up the surface layer are satisfied. Light, CO2, and stoma 6
are needed and consumed. O2 is produced. Photorespiration
Error 104

occurs when the O2 concentration exceeds a certain value.
Photorespiration consumes starch in the inside layer
(strictly speaking, photorespiration consumes glycolate)
and O2 on the surface layer. CO2 is emitted from the surface 2
layer. In a minimum searching problem, each row represents 1
a bit string of a solution. Therefore, if a cell space is 8 8, the 0

inside layer has eight solutions that are expressed in 8-bit bi-
nary code. If the best solution is generated, the row of the
Iteration Number
surface layer that generated this solution is copied to the
next surface layer. Figure 6. Convergence of estimates using the PA.

October 2001 IEEE Control Systems Magazine 75

Table 1. Observed displacements at nodes 3, 4, and 5. Table 2. Estimated values of Youngs modulus.
Node Displacement Element Estimated Target
X Y 1 116 120
3 0.0332 0.123 2 80 80
4 0.4140 1.303 3 95 90
5 0.0011 0.055 4 68 70

Table 3. Estimated values of Poissons ratio.

Application of LCA to a Search Problem
The objective function indicated in Fig. 8 has many local Element Estimated Target
minima. A minimum search test was conducted using this
1 0.24 0.25
multipeak function. The convergence properties of a stan-
dard benchmark GA and LCA were compared. Fig. 9 shows 2 0.30 0.35
that LCA performed better in terms of success rate. The suc- 3 0.29 0.30
cess rate was calculated by dividing the number of times
the minima were successfully found by the number of 4 0.23 0.32
search trials. When the GA was tested, the solutions some-
times fell into local minima, so the percentage of success at capability to identify unknown complex systems with their
200 iterations is only about 50%. LCA found solutions more own learning ability [10]. GAs are one combinatorial optimi-
than 90% of the time in 200 iterations. zation technique. Using a multipoint search procedure, they
search for an optimal value of a complex objective function
Intelligent Environment Control for by simulating the biological evolutionary process based on
Plant Production Systems crossover and mutation in genetics [2], [11].
Hydroponic culture techniques have several potential advan- This section describes the application of a new intelli-
tages over soil culture techniques for cultivation (e.g., flexible gent control system consisting of a decision system and a
control of the root-zone environment) and for the mechaniza- feedback control system to optimize plant growth in hydro-
tion of cultivation processes [5]. In hydroponic cultivation, ponic tomato cultivation. The decision system, which con-
therefore, the development of a more effective control tech- sists of NNs and GAs, provides the optimal set points of the
nique will provide remarkable progress in plant production [6]. nutrient concentration to maintain a balance between vege-
For the effective control of plant production, it is efficient tative and reproductive growth. The control input is the nu-
to monitor the current physiological status of the plant and trient concentration of the solution, and the controlled
then use this information for control. Such an approach is output is the growth of a tomato plant.
known as the speaking plant approach (SPA), where the
environmental factors are considered to be the input and Plant Growth Optimization Problem
the plant responses the output [7]. Generally, however, it is The plant material used here is tomato plant (Lycopersicon
very difficult to control the plant responses because the esculentum Mill. cv. Momotaro) in hydroponics. In tomato culti-
physiological processes are quite complex and uncertain. vation, good fruit yield requires an optimal balance between
Intelligent control approaches are more suitable than tra-
ditional mathematical methods for dealing with complex 4
systems such as cultivation systems [8], [9]. NNs have the

0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3

(a) (b) Objective Function

Figure 7. Two-layered cellular automata. (a) Surface layer; (b) Figure 8. A multipeak function used for the minimum search test.
inside layer.

76 IEEE Control Systems Magazine October 2001

vegetative growth (e.g., root, stem, and leaf growth) and repro- 100
ductive growth (e.g., flower and fruit growth). In hydroponic
cultivation, however, vegetative growth becomes more active
than reproductive growth because the roots of the plants are al-
ways in a suitable environment for the uptake of nutrient ions.
60 LCA
Active vegetative growth induces poor reproductive growth.
The nutrient concentration of the solution in hydroponics GA
is one of the most important manipulated factors for adjust-
ing the balance between the two types of growth [12]. It is
usually increased with plant growth. The balance between
the two types of growth is determined and fixed at the seed-
ling stage. This means that optimal control during this stage 0 50 100 150 200
is important. During the seedling stage, however, since only Iteration Number
such vegetative growth as stem, leaf, and root growth can be
observed, the future balance between the two types of Figure 9. The convergence properties of GA and LCA.
growth has to be predicted from this growth data. It has been
reported that the ratio of stem dry weight to root dry weight
(S/R) is a good indicator for predicting the future balance and Design of a Control System
that a smaller value results in better yields [13]. It is well for Optimization
known that active stem growth is detrimental to reproduc- Fig. 10(a) shows the schematic diagram of a control system
tive growth in the cultivation of fruit and vegetables. In this
for a deep hydroponic system. The plant roots in the deep
study, leaf growth was adopted as one of the predictors in-
hydroponic system always dip into the nutrient solution.
stead of root growth because it can be measured using an im-
The nutrient concentration of the solution is automatically
age-processing system, and a larger leaf growth is linked to
adjusted to the appropriate set point by mixing the highly
the promotion of photosynthate production in plants. From
concentrated nutrient solution and water.
these findings, the ratio of total leaf length (TLL) to stem di-
For growth optimization of plants in plant factories, opti-
ameter (SD) was defined as a predictor for future balance in
mal control of the environment is essential and requires tak-
growth. Actually, higher values of TLL/SD resulted in better
ing the physiological status of the plant into consideration.
reproductive growth. Therefore, controls for maximizing
As mentioned earlier, this has been explored as an SPA [7].
TLL/SD may be valuable only during the seedling stage.
Fig. 10(b) shows the block diagram of a control system
Let TLL( k )/SD( k ) be a time series of TLL/SD as affected by
based on the SPA. It consists of a decision system for deter-
nutrient concentration NC( k ) ( k = 1,..., N : sampling day, N: final
mining the optimal set points of the environment and a feed-
day). For implementation, the seedling stage(1 k N ) was di-
back control system for maintaining the environment at the
vided into four steps: 1) transplanting, 2) vegetative growth af-
optimal set points [14]-[16]. A decision system, which con-
ter transplanting, 3) flowering of the first truss, and 4) fruit
sists of NNs and GAs, determines the optimal set points of
setting for the first truss and flowering for the second truss, and
the environment on the basis of plant growth data. In this
the values of TLL( k )/SD( k ) at the last step (step 4) were evalu-
method, plant responses affected by environmental factors
ated. The value of the nutrient concentration in each step, NC1 ,
are first identified using NNs, and then the optimal environ-
NC2 , NC3 , or NC4 , was kept constant [1 k N 1L (step 1),
mental set points are searched for through simulation of the
N 1L + 1 k N 2L (step 2), N 2L + 1 k N 3L (step 3),
identified NN model using GAs.
N 3L + 1 k N (step 4), where N 1L , N 2L , N 3L , and N represent
The study found that the time variation in the physiologi-
the last days of the first, second, third, and fourth steps].
cal dynamics of the plant, along with the growth, could be
The objective function was given by the average value of
captured by using a recurrent identification and search
TLL/SD at the last step (step 4, N 3L + 1 k N ) in its dy-
technique to determine the optimal values. That is, the iden-
namic response as follows (N 3L + 1: first day of step 4):
tification of plant responses and the search for optimal val-
ues are periodically repeated to follow changes in the
1 TLL( k )
F ( NC) =
N N 3L + 1

k = N 3 L + 1 SD( k )
. physiological dynamics of the plants. The optimal value can
(2) be changed according to the change in the physiological sta-
tus of the plant.
Thus, the optimization problem is to determine the opti-
mal four-step set points of nutrient concentration, NC1 , NC2 , Neural Networks
NC3 , and NC4 , which maximize F ( NC). The nutrient concen- In the study, NNs were used for creating black-box models
tration here was constrained to 0.2 NC( k ) 20
. (mS/cm). for simulation, which predict the TLL/SD ratio of the nutri-
maximize F ( NC) ent concentration of the solution. For dynamic identifica-
subject to 0.2 NC( k ) 20
. (mS/cm). tion, arbitrary feedback loops that produce time histories of

October 2001 IEEE Control Systems Magazine 77

the data are necessary elements of the network [17], [18]. called cross validation. The system order and number of
Fig. 10(c) shows a time-delay NN used for identifying the re- the hidden neurons in the NN were determined based on
sponse of the TLL( k )/SD( k ) ratio to two inputs: nutrient con- cross validation.
centration, NC( k ), and light intensity, L( k ) [19]. The current
output TLL( k )/SD( k ) is estimated from both the historical Genetic Algorithms
input data {NC( k ),..., NC( k n), L( k ),..., L( k n)} and the his- To employ GAs, an individual for genetic evolution must
torical output data {y( k 1),..., y( k n)} (n: system order). first be defined. Fig. 10(d) illustrates the definition of individ-
The learning method was error back-propagation [20]. uals and population P( t ) used in the GA application. Since
The data samples are divided into two data sets: a train- the purpose is to determine the four-step set points of the nu-
ing data set and a testing data set. The former is used for trient concentrations that maximize F ( NC), the set points
training the NN, and the latter for evaluating the accuracy NC1 , NC2 , NC3 , and NC4 represent an individual and each nu-
of the identified model. This type of model validation is trient concentration is coded as a 6-bit binary string (e.g.,

Control System

Decision System
Set Point Search for Optimal Identification
Set Points
Neural Networks
Control Device Genetic Algorithms

trated Water Sensor
Nutrient e
Set Feedback Environ-
Solution Plant
Point + Controller ment

Mixing Tank

Hydroponic System

(a) (b)

Population P(t) at Generation t


NC(k) Individual 1
Time Series 100110 001100 000111 101010
of Nutrient
Concentration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

y(k) = Individual N 000111 111100 001111 000010

Time Series TLL/SD
of Light Genetic Operators
Intensity Output
L(kn) Crossover
Past Time
Series of New Population P(t + 1) at Next Generation (t + 1)
y(kn) Individual 1 010111 100001 001111 110010

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Time Delay Individual N 100110 111001 101100 100010

(c) (d)

Figure 10. Schematic diagrams of (a) a deep hydroponic system; (b) a control system consisting of a feedback control system and a
decision system; (c) an NN used in the decision system; (d) a GA used in the decision system.

78 IEEE Control Systems Magazine October 2001

Treat. 1 350
Treat. 2
250 300
Treat. 3

200 250

100 Estimated
50 150
0 5 10 15 20 Observed
(a) 100

20 50
0 5 10 15 20
102(E m2)
Light Intensity

15 Time [Days]
Figure 12. A comparison of the estimated response and the
5 observed response of the TLL/SD ratio.
0 5 10 15 20
An elitist strategy was used for selection (i.e., the best in-
dividual in a generation was carried through to the next
Nutrient Concentration


1 Measurement and Identification

0.5 of the TLL/SD Ratio
First, the data for identification were obtained. Fig. 11 shows
0 the daily changes in the TLL/SD ratio observed for tomato
0 5 10 15 20
Time [Days] plants grown in hydroponics, as well as the light intensity and
nutrient concentration of the solution during the seedling
stage. The control period is restricted to the seedling stage.
Three patterns of the TLL/SD ratio under three different nu-
Figure 11. The observed daily changes in (a) the TLL/SD ratio of
trient concentration treatments are shown. Morimoto et al.
tomato plants and (b) the light intensity and nutrient concentration
of the solution during the seedling stage. found that three or more data sets are necessary for identifi-
cation [21]. These data were measured every day using an im-
age-processing unit and a ruler. The light condition was
individual i = NCi 1 , NCi 2 , NCi 3 , NCi 4 = 100100, 001001, 001100, arbitrary. The value of the TLL/SD ratio was found to be mark-
101010). A new population P( t + 1) is generated through edly affected by nutrient concentration. For identification,
crossover, mutation, and selection (t: generation index). the data for N = 22 were obtained in each pattern. The re-
Fitness, which is given by (2), is an indicator for measur- sponse of the TLL/SD ratio to both nutrient concentration
ing an individuals survival quality. All individuals are evalu- and light intensity was then identified by an NN, and a
ated based on their fitness values. During the evolution black-box model was created for predicting the TLL/SD ratio.
process, individuals having higher fitness reproduce and in-
Fig. 12 shows the identification result in the response of the
dividuals with lower fitness die in each generation. An indi-
TLL/SD ratio to both light intensity and nutrient concentra-
vidual having the maximum fitness is regarded as an optimal
tion. The data used here were independent of the data in Fig.
11. To save computing time, n = 1 was selected as the system
The procedure of the GA we have employed is as follows.
order. It was also found that the number of hidden neurons
Step 1: An initial population consisting of several indi-
N h = 5 was best for cross validation. The estimated responses
viduals is generated at random.
were closely related to the observed responses, which means
Step 2: Several individuals in another population are
that a reliable computational model could be obtained for pre-
added to the original population to maintain diversity.
Step 3: Crossover and mutation operations are ap- dicting the behavior of the TLL/SD ratio under any combina-
plied to the individuals selected at random. tion of the four-step set points of nutrient concentration.
Step 4: The fitness values of all individuals are calcu-
lated using the NN model, and their performances are Search for the Optimal Set Points
evaluated. of Nutrient Concentration
Step 5: Superior individuals are selected and retained Fig. 13 shows an evolution curve during the search for an op-
for the next generation (Selection). timal value under different crossover and mutation rates.
Step 6: Steps 2 through 5 are repeated until an arbi- The fitness in all cases dramatically increased and then
trary condition is satisfied. reached a maximum value. However, the degree of increase

October 2001 IEEE Control Systems Magazine 79

is larger for higher crossover and mutation rates than for ing of the first and second trusses and the fruit setting of the
lower crossover and mutation rates. For example, the fit- first truss during the seedling stage).
ness reached a maximum value at the ninth generation
when the crossover and mutation rates were high (Pc = 0.8 Optimized Control Performance
and Pm = 0.8). When the crossover and mutation rates were of the TLL/SD Ratio
low (Pc = 0.2 and Pm = 0.02), however, the fitness could not Fig. 14 shows the actual control performance of the TLL/SD
reach the maximum value and fell into a local optimum. This ratio. The solid line represents the optimized control perfor-
is probably due to the loss of diversity in the population mance, and the dotted line represents the conventional con-
caused by low crossover and mutation rates. trol performance. The conventional strategy is simply to
Note, however, that there is no guarantee that GAs yield a increase the nutrient concentration in a stepwise fashion
global optimal solution. In this study, an optimal value ob- with the growth of the plants. To clarify the difference be-
tained from a GA was confirmed by using a round-robin algo- tween the two control performances, standard deviations
rithm that systematically searches for all values (possible were calculated and a t-test was then carried out. Comparing
solutions) around the optimal solution at the proper step. both control performances, it is apparent that the values of
An optimal solution was also confirmed with a different ini-
tial population and different methods of crossover and mu- 200
The optimal four-step set points of the nutrient concen- 150

tration obtained from the decision system were a slightly 100
higher level (1.4 mS/cm) in the first step, a markedly lower
Optimized Control
level (0.3) in the second step, a slightly higher level (1.6) in 50
Conventional Control
the third step, and the maximum level (2.0) in the fourth 0
step. In hydroponics, as mentioned above, since the roots of 0 5 10 15 20 25
plants are always in a suitable environment for the uptake of
nutrient ions, vegetative growth during the seedling stage is
easy to promote. Active vegetative growth during the seed-
Stem Diameter (cm)

ling stage will result in poor reproductive growth in the fu- 1

ture [12], [22], [23]. Therefore, vegetative growth must be 0.8
suppressed at the early seedling stage, before the flowering 0.6
of the first truss. The low nutrient concentration in the sec- 0.4
ond step seems to be effective in suppressing excessive veg-
etative growth during the seedling stage. The high nutrient 0 5 10 15 20 25
concentrations in the third and fourth steps appear to be
useful in accelerating reproductive growth (i.e., the flower-

Total Leaf Length


0 5 10 15 20 25

Pc = 0.2, Pm = 0.02
Nutrient Concentration

Pc = 0.2, Pm = 0.2

Pc = 0.8, Pm = 0.8 1.5

290 0
0 10 20 30 0 5 10 15 20 25

Generation Number Time [Days]

Figure 13. Evolution curves of the search for an optimal value Figure 14. Performance with optimized and conventional
under different crossover and mutation rates. control.

80 IEEE Control Systems Magazine October 2001

Table 4. The number of presentations on agricultural robots at the annual meeting of JSAM.
Year 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Number of presentations 25 20 31 34 15 37 33 40 34 32

the TLL/SD ratio are 10-15% higher with the optimal control the surrounding soil area, detection of boundary lines be-
than with the conventional control. This result was con- tween crop and soil areas, and position identification using a
firmed using a t-test at the 5% level of significance. With the three-dimensional perspective view transformation are re-
optimal control, the reason for this result is that stem growth quired. Discrimination of crop area was performed using color
was significantly suppressed by the low nutrient concentra- transformation of an HSI (hue, saturation, and intensity) trans-
tion at the second step, whereas the leaf growth did not vary form [24]. Fig. 15 shows the result of the HSI transfer of cloudy
significantly in either case. Thus, the effectiveness of this and sunny day images taken at 12:00 p.m. Discrimination be-
control system was also confirmed experimentally. tween the crop canopy and soil area was successful using the
HSI transfer without the influence of climate and shooting
Intelligent Robots in Agriculture time. A least-squares method was used for boundary detec-
In Japan, agricultural robotic research is widely performed tion between crop row and soil area, and a three-dimensional
in the areas of autonomous navigation, harvesting, and perspective view transformation was used for position identi-
nursery production. Table 4 shows the number of presenta- fication. The results showed that the offset error was within
tions on robotic research at the annual meetings of the Japa- 0.02 m and the attitude angle error was within 0.5, which were
nese Society of Agricultural Machinery (JSAM) over the past sufficient for guidance in the field. This algorithm was applied
ten years. Research in autonomous navigation is being con- to a vision-guided tractor [25]. Fig. 16 shows the resulting path
ducted in universities, in government institutes, and by agri- trajectory and that the offset error was within 0.02 m at a
cultural machinery manufacturers. speed of 0.25 m/s. Work is continuing on this project to in-
In universities, due to financial limitations, most of the re- crease the speed, and work on vision guidance in the paddy
search has focused on methodologies such as navigation, field is in progress.
sensing, and the application of control theory. At research At Hokkaido University, an NN vehicle controller was de-
institutes and manufacturers, which have more financial re- signed in which the motion of a mobile agricultural robot was
sources, more practical systems were developed. Research specified as a nonlinear system with high learning ability [26].
in harvesting robots is performed mainly in universities, At Kyoto University, an automatic follow-up vehicle, using
though the technical levels are still beneath that of the two small head-feeding combines, is under development [27].
MAGARI robot, which was developed at CEMAGREF A human operator in the front vehicle controls it, and the fol-
(France) in the late 1980s. low-up vehicle is automatically controlled by computer. At
Nursery robots are developed
mainly by government research in-
stitutes and manufacturers, and
some of them are reaching the mar-
ket. In particular, grafted nurseries,
such as cucumber, watermelon, to-
mato, and eggplant, are widely used
in greenhouses, and various types
(a) (b)
of grafting robots are being devel-
oped by agricultural manufacturers Figure 15. Results of HIS transformation. (a) Cloudy day (12:00); (b) sunny day (12:00).
and other types of industries.
1.2 0.6
Autonomous Navigation 0.8
Offset (m)

Target Line
Offset (m)

At the University of Tokyo, a machine 0.2

Target Line
vision algorithm for crops was devel- 0.4 0
oped and applied to vision-guided 0.2
0 Trace
navigation of a tractor, which would 0 5 10 15 0.4
be used for row crop husbandry such 0.4 0.6
0 5 10 15 20
as mechanical weeding and precise
chemical applications. For vision Distance [m] Distance [m]

guidance, image analysis of the crop (a) (b)

field is essential. Thus, highly accu- Figure 16. Results of vision-guided navigation. (a) Trace on an artificial lawn; (b) trace on a
rate discrimination of crop area from crop row.

October 2001 IEEE Control Systems Magazine 81

work was completed within 2
hours and 15 minutes at a speed of
0.45 m/s. The work area was 50
100 m2. A self-diagnosis function
and an alarm function are also in-
At the National Agricultural Re-
s e a rc h Center (NARC, at Tsukuba,
Inoue applied a differential global
positioning system (DGPS) and an
optical fiber gyroscope (three axis)
mounted on a 55-kW (75-HP) trac-
(a) (b)
tor for tillage, and a Kalman filter
Figure 17. (a) Total station and (b) navigation test in the field [31]. was used for estimation of the cur-
rent position [31]. The accuracy of
90 the DGPS was 0.15 m (sampling
speed: 1 Hz), and that of the optical
80 Fruit fiber gyroscope was 0.3. A rotary
Leaf tillage test was performed in the
Stem field (100 160 m) at a speed of 1
Reflectance [%]

60 Flower m/s. The offset error was within 0.1

m, and that of a U-turn at the head-
50 land was 0.12 m.
Nagasaka used a real-time kine-
matics GPS (RTKGPS) with an opti-
30 cal fiber gyro for an autonomous
rice planter [32]. As the GPS data
20 has a delay time (about 0.2 s)
caused by communication with
the reference, compensation for
0 this delay was added for real-time
300 500 700 900 1100 1300 1500 1700 1900 2100 2300 2500
position estimation. The GPS an-
Wavelength [nm] tenna was mounted on top of the
vehicle, resulting in an error of 0.1
Figure 18. Spectral reflectance of cucumber [40]. m at a roll angle of 3. This inclina-
tion was also corrected. Steering
Ehime University, a small automatic transport vehicle angle was determined according to the difference in atti-
equipped with a carriage self-correction mechanism was de- tude angle error.
veloped for use in greenhouses [28]. At the National Grassland Research Institute (NGRI,
In 1993, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry,, an autonomous tractor for for-
and Fisheries (MAFF, initiated the age production was developed using a fiber-optic gyro-
Agricultural Machine Development Project in which the scope and an ultrasonic Doppler speed sensor for position
development of unmechanized machinery was promoted. identification [33].
Development of a tillage robot and driverless air blast Among manufacturers, the Crop Engineering System
sprayer were started in BRAIN (Bio-oriented Technology Laboratory, Inc., was founded by Kubota Co., Ikegami
Research Advancement Institute), and a driverless air Tsushinki Co., Ltd., and BRAIN. Application of a tracking la-
blast sprayer is now in field use [29]. Through this project, ser finder system and laser range sensor on automatic farm
many technologies have been developed, and a total sta- machine systems has been performed for an autonomous
tion (TOPCON Co. Ltd.) with automatic tracking for moving rice planter [34].
objects is now being used as the position sensor of a tillage This research is summarized in Table 5. Since the cost of
robot in the field [30]. Fig. 17 shows the total station and RTKGPS is rapidly decreasing and the performance of image
the navigation test in the field. The automatic tracking, po- processing is increasing, the combination of machine vision
sition measurement, and data communication perfor- and RTKGPS appears to be the most promising system for the
mances were sufficient at a distance of 500 m. The tillage future.

82 IEEE Control Systems Magazine October 2001

Table 5. Results of navigation tests.
Institute Machine Sensor Velocity (m/s) Errors (m) References
University of Tractor Vision 0.25 0.02 [24]-[26]
Hokkaido Tractor Geomagnetic direction 0.5 0.4
University sensor
Kyoto Combine Ultrasonic sensor 0.55 [27]
Ehime Transport Self-carriage 0.5 Not [28]
University vehicle described
MAFF (NARC) Tractor DGPS and optical fiber 1.0 0.1 [31]
MAFF (NARC) Rice planter RTKDGPS and optical fiber 0.8 0.15 [32]
MAFF (NGRI) Tractor Optical fiber gyroscope 1.2 1-2 [33]
and ultrasonic Doppler
speed sensor
BRAIN Tractor Image processing and laser 0.4 0.05 [30]
range sensor
BRAIN Speed sprayer Guiding cable 0.7 0.1 [29]
Kubota Mechanical Laser range sensor 0.7 0.05 [34]
weeding for rice
MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries)
BRAIN (Bio-oriented Technology Research Advancement Institute)

Harvesting Robots mance is still low and the human operator is superior in cost
Developments of harvesting robots were conducted in the and reliability. Therefore, even in Japan, continued interest
United States, Europe, and Japan in the 1980s. In Japan, re- will depend on new technological innovations.
search on a harvesting robot for tomato was initiated in
1984 at Kyoto University, mainly by Fujiura and Ura, who re-
Nursery Production Robots
ceived an award from the Japanese Society of Agricultural
Nursery production robots such as transplanting and graft-
Machinery in 1991 [35], [36].
ing robots are widely commercialized. In Japan, the grafted
Since 1990, Okayama University has been leading the re-
nursery, which has strong tolerance against injury by con-
search in harvesting robots, such as for tomato, cucumber, tinuous cropping, is mainly used in the greenhouse. The ra-
grape, and strawberry crops [37]-[40]. In these robots, spec- tio of each crop in the grafted nursery is 70% cucumber, 30%
tral reflectance was used for the discrimination of fruit from tomato, 50% eggplant, and 90% watermelon [42]. Although
leaf and stem. Fig. 18 shows the spectral reflectance of cucum- there is some variety in grafting methods, for the most part,
ber fruit and leaf. The reflectance of the fruit is higher than that the machines put together a scion and a rootstock using a
of leaf and stem in the near-infrared band; therefore, band-pass clip, pin, and special bond adhesive method. Proper treat-
filters of 550 and 850 nm were used with a monochrome cam- ment after grafting is a necessity, typically requiring a dark
era for the recognition of fruit. In this research, the cultivation chamber with high humidity; thus, an increase in the suc-
types were also improved to discriminate the fruit from other cess rate is required, to over 90%. Grafting machines oper-
parts. Fig. 19 shows a cucumber-harvesting robot; the stem of ate on the plants one by one or in one row at a time. The
the cucumber was set inclined so that the cucumbers were performance of the grafting machine is about 800-1,000
separated from leaves and stems. A redundant manipulator is plants/hour, which is ten times that of human operators. A
used for the harvesting to avoid obstacles such as stems or grafting robot is shown in Fig. 20.
leaves. Robots for harvesting leaf vegetables such as cabbage Plug-type seedlings are transplanted from a small tray, in
are also being developed [41]. which seedlings are planted at higher density, to a larger
Little research in harvesting robots is currently under tray, and some plants are transplanted into separate pots. A
way in Europe and the United States because robotic perfor- transplanting machine is used for this operation whose per-

October 2001 IEEE Control Systems Magazine 83

Figure 19. Cucumber harvesting robot [40]. Figure 20. Grafting robot (Komatsu).

formance is approximately 6,000 plants/hour [43]. Sensing of image processing is increasing, a robotic system combin-
of the stem is critical in this operation, and photo sensors or ing machine vision and RTKGPS appears to hold the most
capacitance sensors are mainly used. Several types of these promise for the future. The nursery production robot, trans-
machines are already on the market. planting robot, and grafting robot are already in the market-
Although research in tissue culture robots was per- place, and many new technologies and innovations are
formed in the early 1990s in the United States, Europe, and being developed in this area.
Japan, the market for this machine was too small, and most
of this research has been discontinued. Acknowledgment
The authors wish to express their appreciation to Prof. N.
Conclusions Sigrimis for the invitation to write this article.
In this article, we have discussed the application of intelli-
gent approaches to optimization problems in agriculture in
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Japan, 1997, vol. 3, pp. 1555-1560. has been a Professor of Biomechanical Systems, Ehime Uni-
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in Proc. AgEng98, A-44, Oslo, Norway, 1998, pp. 1-8.
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automatic guided vehicle for use in greenhouses and its traveling perfor- engineering from Ehime University, Japan, in 1993. From
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1977 until 1994, he was an Assistant Professor and since
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Toru Torii received the B.A. degree in agricultural engineer-
opment of autonomous rice transplanter, J. Jpn. Soc. Agricultural Machinery, ing in 1980, the M.S. degree in mechanical engineering for
vol. 61, no. 6, pp. 179-186, 1999. production in 1982, and the Ph.D. degree in 1992 from the
[33] A. Okado, M. Ishida, K. Imou, H. Takenaga, and N. Itokawa, Development
University of Tokyo. From 1982 to 1984, he was with
of an autonomous tractor for forage production, in Proc. 3rd Int. Symp. Artifi-
cial Life and Robotics, Beppu, Oita, 1998, pp. 238-241. Mitsubishi Motors Co., and from 1989 to 1999, he was an As-
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Osaka, Crop Engineering System Laboratory, Inc., 1997. sity of Tokyo. Since 1999, he has been an Associate
[35] N. Kawamura, K. Namikawa, T. Fujiura, and M. Ura, Study on agricultural
Professor in precision engineering at the University of To-
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bot for orchard, J. Jpn. Soc. Agricultural Mach., vol. 52, no. 2, pp. 35-42, 1990. cromechatronics devices for lab on a chip.

October 2001 IEEE Control Systems Magazine 85