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Agri robots for the fastest vegetables and the most fragile fruits: almost here?

2021 is already over halfway and the conquering of the market with horticultural robots has yet to begin. But, the year is not over yet and the plan remains unchanged, says Harrie Schonewille, director of VDL ETG Projects. Robots in horticulture should replace the (now scarce) Eastern European contract laborers.

The CropTeq CDL 10 cuts an average of ten cucumber leaves per minute with one arm. A beta version of the robot is scheduled to enter the market in the fourth quarter. The current prototype has now reached the third and final test phase: the integral test. “We first test all the sub-systems separately under controlled conditions. There is always something going on in a greenhouse. A tropical day, a leakage or a blocked aisle, you name it.” And they don’t have time for delays at VDL. At the end of September, the company wants to present the most complete version possible of the Cropteq at Greentech. VDL would have liked to be further along already, but corona has thrown a spanner in the works here as well.

A set timeline for the coming period is difficult to establish. But next year Schonewille hopes to sell at least one hundred leaf-cutting robots. Before that happens, about ten Cropteqs will first take the Dutch cucumber greenhouses by storm at the end of this year. Schonewille expects that the investment by Dutch growers in the robot will be gradual. In countries like the United States, greenhouses are many times larger and investments are made much more suddenly. Investments by growers over there are consequently decisive for the success of the robotization of horticulture around the world.

The development of the Cropteq has not been without challenges. Not least because it is a new product. “Mechanically, it is not a complex vehicle. Actually, it’s just a car that rides around a greenhouse. But the interaction between the mechanics, the AI and the plants does make it complicated. We are now working on the fourth generation of this effector, and we haven’t even ventured onto the market yet.” Add to that a constantly changing green environment, then the challenge is complete. VDL’s agri robot was initially developed to cut leaves from a cucumber plant. An important task, because with fewer leaves, the fruit has more room to grow which ensures that the crop yield is higher.

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