Sweeper was launched at the beginning of 2015. The goal of this project is to develop a harvesting robot for sweet peppers. The robot is being tested at De Tuindershoek, a sweet pepper farm in IJsselmuiden run by two brothers, André en Paul Kaashoek.

What made you decide to join in the development of Sweeper?

‘As a member of the Dutch National Sweet Pepper Committee I was involved in Crops, the predecessor of Sweeper. As Sweeper had to be tested in practice, we proposed our farm as a testing ground. Also, if you are among the first to collaborate on projects like these, you will be able to benefit from innovation grants. That doesn’t mean that funding is our only incentive: all six partners in the project are expected to put a lot of effort into the project.’

What is being researched at your farm?

‘The prototype should be ready in February 2018; we are currently still looking into a number of different aspects. One of these was testing several types of cameras. The goal was to choose the best camera, while also exploring the possibilities of what a camera can capture in terms of data. It may even lead to us cultivating another variety to accommodate the research, for example. That would be quite a drastic change, but like I said, we have very high standards in terms of what we want to accomplish with this project.’

‘Labour is currently our biggest cost item. A robot would help us achieve tremendous savings in this.’

What advantages would a robot have for your farm?

‘Our biggest cost item is labour, for harvesting the green peppers. A robot would help us achieve tremendous savings in this. We would also need fewer seasonal workers. On the other hand, we would need more technical staff for maintenance on the robots. That would mean a big change in the composition of our workforce. Of course, we would have to make sure that the venture is economically viable: a robot has to give you something extra.’

Aren’t you apprehensive about making this investment; by being the first to test a harvesting robot?

‘Nobody is forcing us to join in, or adapt our greenhouses. This is our very own decision. And a decision we will continue to support.’

Are you enjoying your contribution to the development of a robot?

‘Absolutely. It is also very exciting and quite challenging at times.’

Text: Tuinbouwteksten.nl/Mario van Vliet. Photo: Mario Bentvelsen.

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