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New robot picks a peck of peppers and more

Robotic harvesting will revolutionize the economics of the agriculture industry, according to the consortium that built Sweeper, a sweet pepper harvesting robot.

The world’s most advanced sweet pepper harvesting robot, developed in a consortium including Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers, was introduced at the Research Station for Vegetable Production at St. Katelijne Waver in Belgium, report ScienceDaily.

Harvesting ripe fruit in 24 seconds

Sweeper, as the robot is called, is designed to operate in a single stem row cropping system, with non-clustered fruits and little leaf occlusion. Preliminary test results showed that by using a commercially available crop modified to mimic the required conditions, the robot currently harvests ripe fruit in 24 seconds with a success rate of 62%.

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Sweeper is designed to operate in a single stem row cropping system, with non-clustered fruits and little leaf occlusion. Photo: Research Station for Vegetable Production at St. Katelijne Waver
Sweeper is designed to operate in a single stem row cropping system, with non-clustered fruits and little leaf occlusion. Photo: Research Station for Vegetable Production at St. Katelijne Waver

Detect ripe produce using computer vision

The BGU team spearheaded efforts to improve the robot’s ability to detect ripe produce using computer vision, and has played a role in defining the specifications of the robot’s hardware and software interfaces, focusing on supervisory control activities.

Robotic harvesting will reduce food waste

Polina Kurtser, a Ph.D. candidate in the BGU Department of Industrial Engineering and Management and member of the team, says robotic harvesting will revolutionize the economics of the agriculture industry and dramatically reduce food waste.

“The Sweeper picks methodically and accurately,” she says. “When it is fully developed, it will enable harvesting 24/7, drastically reduce spoilage, cut labor costs and shield farmers from market fluctuations.”

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Harvesting robot available within 4 to 5 years

Additional research is needed to increase the robot’s work speed to reach a higher harvest success rate. Based upon these latest results, the Sweeper consortium expects that a commercial sweet pepper harvesting robot will be available within 4 to 5 years, and that the technology could be adapted for harvesting other crops.

North America is the second largest producer of sweet (bell) and chili peppers in the world with a 31% market share. In 2017 Europe accounted for more than half the world’s pepper supply (53.2%) with exports valued at $ 2.7 billion.

Partnership

Sweeper is a partnership between BGU, Wageningen University & Research, and pepper grower De Tuindershoek BV, in the Netherlands, Umea University in Sweden, and the Research Station for Vegetable Cultivation and Bogaerts Greenhouse Logistics in Belgium. The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program

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