Development of User-Integrated Semi-Autonomous Lawn Mowing Systems: A Systems Engineering Perspective and Proposed Architecture
1. Introduction and Background
1.1. Motivation and Problem Overview
1.2. Previous Work: Mowing Systems
1.3. Previous Work: Navigation, Data Processing, and Path Planning
1.4. Main Areas of Applicability
- It is not always possible to rely on GPS coverage with either a field robot or mowing system, making navigation systems such as dead reckoning, beacon finding, and drive-by-sight necessary in some cases. In a more urban outdoor environment, GPS coverage is likely much more reliable (due to built-in redundancies in highly populated areas ) and the layout of the space is more logical and easy for a map to be made of it for the robot. This is of course not always the case, but it can be generally assumed that city streets are more clearly laid out and planned than dirt paths in more rural areas and large areas of grass (in yards and similar).
- For both agricultural and semi-autonomous mowing systems, the lack of buildings locally may make it more difficult to map the space. Buildings can be recognized by the on-board instruments and can be used as markers and space limits. For field robotics and mowing systems, there may be a single building (such as a house or barn) or nothing (such as on a golf course or field). This lack of building decreases the available easily-spotted landmarks and increases the possible distance between the system and operators. This can be mitigated somewhat by using UAVs as markers (or mappers), by using more long-range communication strategies, and similar strategies that would require more active setup from the user.
- In urban environments, the encountered obstacles are both more likely to be static and standardized (cars, manhole covers, poles, traffic cones) or very unpredictable (cars, animals not afraid of machinery); both mowing system and other agricultural robotic systems are more likely to encounter generally unpredictable obstacles (e.g., animals and debris from storm damage) and obstacles which may block control and GPS signals in some areas (e.g., large trees and ravines). It is assumed in both cases that humans would not be effective obstacles, as they would be intelligent enough to detect and avoid the robot.
- Finally, a semi-autonomous mowing system will need to be able to monitor and navigate among plants (the cut grass, as well as any ornamental plants and trees). The size, density, and appearance of the plants may be somewhat random, as it is not possible to make all of them for the mowing system. Similarly, the uncut height of the grass will be a random variable distribution, not a single number, and need to be tracked and dealt with by the mower during operation. A major decision that will need to be made by the mowing system during operation is whether an encountered plant (identified as being different than the grass) is to be cut (such as a weed) or treated as an obstacle (e.g., it is too thick to be cut by the mower or is a plant that should be preserved).
1.5. Purpose and Study Structure
2. Systems Engineering Perspective
2.1. Motivation for a Systems Engineering Perspective
2.2. Concept of Operations (CONOPS)
2.3. System View of User-Integrated, Semi-Autonomous Mowers
- The lifecycle tasks: These include moving the system design along from step to step (Figure 3) to ensure an completed and useful system
- The design and integration tasks within each of the steps
3. Basic, High-Level Requirements Development
- Fundamental requirements: These are the most important high-level requirements, such as the expected basic performance and configuration of the system [37,38,39,40]. In the case of a user-integrated semi-autonomous mowing system, these requirements would be things such as requiring a basic user interface, that the system should have a significant degree of autonomy, that the system would function using a planned path and avoid obstacles, and that the space to be mowed must be mapped somehow and have a boundary identifiable by the mowing system.
- Functional requirements: Since the fundamental requirements (i.e., “the system must do X”), the functional requirements are those related to performance and function of the system [39,40,41]. These may include things such as meeting minimal performance and efficiency requirements, being able to be remotely shut off in an emergency, being able to localize itself once the job is started, and other functional requirements.
- Non-functional requirements: These would contain the bulk of the general requirements and deal with things such as reliability, serviceability, supportability, and cost effectiveness [37,42,43,44]. This list of requirements could be the most broad, as these may relate to things external to the system, such as local regulations and the desires of the user not related to mowing quality (e.g., color, noise level, IOS versus android user platform, etc.).
- Software requirements: These requirements [45,46,47] would be separate from the other requirements, as the software used will likely be developed separate from the rest of the system and may be used in a wide variety of systems, similar to 3-D printer software packages such as Cura® and Repetier-Host®. The software development may also have a large influence on the development of the rest of the system, as it may impose operational constraints on the rest of the system. However, whether the software is open-source or proprietary, it should allow upgrades and bug and security fixes either by the user or pushed by the manufacturer. When possible, existing software libraries (such a Robotic Operating Systems (ROS) [48,49,50,51]) may be used to decrease the development risk [52,53]. However, in a commercial environment, the manufacturer may choose to use proprietary software for a variety of reasons; this is discussed in more depth in Section 5 on practical system implementation.
- Safety and security requirements: It is vitally important for the system to be safe to use for the operator, any by-standers, and any animals or property that could be encountered by the mower. In addition, the system will need to connected to the internet (or at least a local network) and will have high-value hardware components, it is vital that robust physical and cyber security is implemented [38,54,55,56].
4. Proposed System Architecture
- The user will interact with the working system through the user interface
- The system will operate with some degree of autonomy with the user providing some of the monitoring, direction, and decision making
- The hardware and software elements must interact through the sensors, the on-board computer, and the localization system
- There must be some boundary elements for the yard for the localization engine and sensors to interact with
- There must be some kind of secondary vision system in order to detect and react to unpredictable obstacles
- There must be some method of producing a map of the yard, which will include locating and identifying PNIOs and PNOs
- There must be a communication link between the system and the internet or a local wireless network
- The system must have some kind of home base or dock for it to be secured, maintained, updated, recharged or refueled, and similar
5. Practical Implementation Considerations
5.1. Requirements and Architecture Detailing
5.2. Modeling and Documentation
5.3. Prototyping and Simulations
5.4. System Realization
- In-house proprietary-new design: The lab or company building the mowing system will develop the component from scratch and use a new design under this OEM. This component is assumed to be made only for the mowing system under development and is optimized for it.
- In-house proprietary-adaption: The lab or company building the mowing system selects or adapts an existing proprietary component (internally-developed) to use on the mowing system.
- External proprietary-contractor: Similar to #1 but the mower system manufacturer does not have the capability so the component is out-sourced to a contractor to produce
- External proprietary-COTS: This is the adoption or adaption of a proprietary (external) but commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) component in the mowing system
- Open source: The component is an open-source design that can be used and adapted freely. This will be especially useful in the development of the software components, as Robot Operating Systems (ROS) [48,49,50,88,89] are available, as well as other open-source tools such as OpenCV  for machine vision. ROS can provide a wide variety of important software packages which can be used as-is or as a template for the actual software used; particularly useful packages include SLAM, pose estimation, firmware, and sensor fusion [48,89]. Open source software (and hardware) is very useful in the research arena and can save a lot of time and effort during development. They may also be useful in some applications on the commercial side, but this must be a decision by the stakeholders and not something that can be hard-wired into a system design framework. It is well-known that open-source, wide-use hardware and software (such as kit robots and ROS) are generally less reliable and efficient that single-use, purpose-built proprietary elements [51,91,92,93], but they may be appropriate and even desirable for some commercial designs. Therefore, the use will depend also on the domain of applicability, the amount of control the producer grants to the user, and the goals of the design.
- Hybrid The development strategy for the component or subsystem which is a hybrid of the previously described strategies
5.5. Verification, Validation, and Accreditation
6. Conclusions and Final Remarks
7. Important Future Work Directions
- Development of test courses for the VV&A of semi-autonomous mowing systems
- Development and refinement of user interfaces that can be used with these and other types of mowing systems
- Assessment of the reliability of the system and various system components, especially any hardware and sensors mounted on the robot
- Mowing robots may be subject to more vibration (both regular and unexpected) than other robotic systems - the effects of this on performance and reliability should be evaluated
- Develop a user training program for operating, maintaining, and repairing a user-integrated semi-autonomous mowing system
- A comparison of performance and trade-offs between power sources for the robot are needed. Unlike many robotic systems it is feasible, and perhaps even desirable, to use a small internal combustion engine as a power source for this kind of system. Comparison with a battery-driven system is essential in future studies.
Conflicts of Interest
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Patterson, A.E.; Yuan, Y.; Norris, W.R. Development of User-Integrated Semi-Autonomous Lawn Mowing Systems: A Systems Engineering Perspective and Proposed Architecture. AgriEngineering 2019, 1, 453-474. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriengineering1030033
Patterson AE, Yuan Y, Norris WR. Development of User-Integrated Semi-Autonomous Lawn Mowing Systems: A Systems Engineering Perspective and Proposed Architecture. AgriEngineering. 2019; 1(3):453-474. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriengineering1030033Chicago/Turabian Style
Patterson, Albert E., Yang Yuan, and William R. Norris. 2019. "Development of User-Integrated Semi-Autonomous Lawn Mowing Systems: A Systems Engineering Perspective and Proposed Architecture" AgriEngineering 1, no. 3: 453-474. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriengineering1030033