US: Data center project to test crop-picking robots

Purdue University Northwest will test out crop-picking robots at a new greenhouse at the Digital Crossroads Data Center in Hammond. 
A team of Purdue University Northwest College of Technology researchers have landed more than $1 million in federal and private funding to test the new agricultural technology, which has the potential to help farmers facing labor shortages.

"Machine operators would remotely pick tomatoes, strawberries, fruits and vegetables," Purdue University Northwest Economic Development Director Don Babcock said. "You can grow the vegetable and fruit and harvest them remotely when they're ripe. That's the concept. It's something really unique we're doing in Northwest Indiana we need to amplify."

Digital Crossroads is contributing $276,000 toward the project. It's also building a 4,000-square-foot greenhouse that will be powered by waste heat from the data center and leased to Purdue Northwest.
Purdue University Northwest will operate the robots remotely to pick crops in what could ultimately because a new occupation, said Mont Handley, entrepreneur in residence and associate director at the PNW Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center, as well as the principal investigator of Project Traverse.
“Project Traverse will allow the United States to recover from decades of trade imbalance for produce, provide resilient harvests of healthy, nutrient-rich produce to the public during pandemics or other global supply chain disruptions, and offer remote and safe employment to a nimble workforce skilled in remote management of horticulture crops,” Handley said.
"This is really on track with Purdue's role as a land grant institution," he said. "It's the democratization of robots, making them as inexpensive as a used pickup truck for small growers who might be growing heirloom produce." Purdue Northwest will begin the research project in June but it will be several more weeks before the robots are installed. Researchers will first pick tomatoes and then later strawberries. "There's a lot of potential for new ventures to spin out of this," Handley said.

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