A robot takes its pick

Modern horticulture is already quite industrialized. However, a lot of manual work is still involved, which greatly impacts annual costs. Added to the difficulty of finding the workforce, it is no surprise that there is great interest in automating certain tasks. Salman Faraji from the ETH Robotic Systems Lab (RSL) and his team developed a robot that does some of the work and is easy to incorporate into existing systems. Watching the robot do the work is almost therapeutic – the arm reaches out, steers towards the peduncle, cuts and drops it into the box - repeat.

“Harvesting alone accounts for 4 to 6% of the total production cost and, therefore, the potential savings are significant,” says Toni Suter, Production Manager at Meiergemüse in Rütihof, Switzerland. On average, it takes a total of 2,815 hours of labour to harvest and de-​leaf one hectare per year. On the other hand, a robot is operational for 4,246 hours per year, including night work. So extrapolating, a single picking robot manages the required output for 1.5 hectares, which is why it can replace 3.5 employees. Given these facts, it is not surprising that Salman was not the first to think of automating horticulture. So, what sets Floating Robotics apart from its competitors?

Deep learning and a clever system
“Our system combines robotics, image processing, and advanced AI”, says Salman. The robot consists of a robotic arm with gripper and shears, cameras, and parallel-​processing capabilities. The arm can be mounted on an existing cart used for maintenance in greenhouses. For harvesting, a boxing system is added. 

Read more at ethz.ch

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