This small robot can pick strawberries with machine vision and can still see that it is not cooked.

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This small robot can pick strawberries with machine vision and can still see that it is not cooked.

2017/10/13 15:30

In a greenhouse in Belgium, there is a small robot that walks through rows of strawberries growing on a tray of trays, uses machine vision to find mature, ripe fruit, and then gently picks each fruit with 3D printed paws. Next, put it in the basket for sale. If you feel that the fruit has not yet been picked, the little guy will estimate the time of maturity and then pick it up again.


This interesting picture is an experiment by the Belgian company Octinion, which believes that this system can replace the traditional strawberry planting and harvesting mode.


In California, strict immigration policies coupled with a rich economic environment have led to a decline in the number of immigrant farm workers, and local workers do not want to do this work, which makes it difficult for strawberry growers to find workers to pick fruits. In the UK, Brexit has made agricultural work less attractive to Eastern European workers, and most of these jobs were previously contracted by them. Today, most developed countries face similar challenges to the shortage of agricultural labor.


“Agricultural labor is unsustainable at the moment, because it is often a foreign population who come from afar, and then come home from time to time. Then they are busy and go home. Or they are some immigrants who want to start and change better in the future. Work," said Octinion CEO Tom Coen.



The robot developed by Octinion can pick a strawberry every five seconds, while humans are a little faster, picking one every three seconds.


"We have to be a little slower, but we are economically profitable because the cost of each fruit is similar," Cohen said.


Octinion began designing the robot based on cost constraints and other requirements for picking strawberries. For example, the stem of a strawberry should not be left on the fruit when it is picked because it will pierce other strawberries in the basket. When the fruit begins to wrap, the redder side should be placed on top to appeal to the consumer. The robot's vision system is capable of accomplishing this task.



The robot was designed to work with the "desktop" growth system, where strawberries are grown on rows of pallets rather than in the fields, as this is the industry's evolving direction. In Europe, greenhouse cultivation of strawberries has become a standard way, and most of the strawberries produced are exported to the United States. Major producers such as Driscolls have begun to turn to tray growth systems because of the height of planting that is easier for robots or humans to pick. Driscolls has been developing another strawberry picking robot, but it always cuts strawberries. The Octinion robot will calculate whether it will scratch the strawberry, and if it does, it will not pick.


In addition to being easier to pick, the tray growth system is more water efficient because the system only needs to water a small amount of soil around the strawberries and produce more per unit area.


As global urbanization continues to increase, Cohen believes that vertical agricultural systems are bound to increase, and robots will help the system become more economical.


“About 80% of the strawberries produced in the United States come from California, which means that the strawberries you eat in New York may have been transported on trucks for two days. This is not a good deal, both ecologically and economically,” he said.


At present, the Octinion robot is nearing completion and the company is testing it with the Research Center of Hoogstraten in Belgium. By next year, Octinion will begin pilot testing with strawberry pickers and will go on sale in 2019. In addition, the company plans to enrich the robot's skill package to pick other agricultural products such as peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.


“We hope that any crop that can be grown in the greenhouse will be able to be picked,” Cohen said.