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Priva developing leaf-cutting robot

For any grower, labour is a significant cost. Likewise, crop operations often represent a great physical burden for employees, and may in fact be quite monotonous. Together with a large group of tomato growers, Priva is developing a robot that removes the leaves of tomato plants independently and efficiently.

Labour-intensive work automation
In cultivation, the lower leaves of each tomato plant are regularly removed, advancing the maturation of the fruits. This crop operation is called, depending on the process, leaf breaking or leaf cutting. Two to three leaves are typically removed, cutting them as close to the stem as possible, as to prevent diseases, such as botrytis.

Priva, together with a group of tomato growers, started a major undertaking some years ago: to develop a greenhouse robot that removed the leaves of tomato plants independently. The goal is not just a robot that equals the performance of people, the automaton must also be economically viable. Nobody has yet been able to make such a robot.

The challenges
The substantive challenge of automated leaf cutting is recognizing the right leaves in a 'sea of green' and to remove these efficiently. Not an easy feat, as each plant is different and lighting conditions vary between hours of the day. Modern optical techniques must therefore be applied. A robot arm containing a specially designed cutting module should be able to remove said leaves without damage to the crop.

Also, the robot must be economically viable by removing a large number of leaves per hour. This means that the robot arm must be able to move fast and that optical appliances have to be able to quickly and reliably determine the position of the leaves. Only then can the automaton be a practical replacement for human labour.

The collaboration
The project is the basis of a unique partnership. Firstly, it involves growers who realize that labour will sooner or later represent a limiting factor in their operations. Secondly, the project is joined by a adventurous supplier that shares this vision. Both parties invest in the development, which is further facilitated by a number of subsidies and local and national sponsors.

Status Quo
In spite of several initiatives underway, current models have as yet to live up to the conditions mentioned above. Nevertheless, a promising prototype has been in development for the past two years, and is tested as we speak. Those involved are positive about recent improvements, and a polished product may appear on markets in the near future.

Tomation is a collaborative effort involving: Priva, Stichting Prigrow Tomation en Berg Hortimotive. It is supported by: Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland, Provincie Zuid Holland, Gemeente Westland, Rabobank, Productschap Tuinbouw and Stichting Landbouw Innovatie Brabant.

This is a Priva article. For more information:
Priva (e-mail)
Zijlweg 3
2678 LC De Lier
T +31 (0)174 522 600
F +31 (0)174 522 700

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