Chances are big that the Priva Deleafing Robot will be the winner of the 2016 GreenTech Innovation Award. It is the first robot in the world today to offer an economically viable alternative for the manual removal of leaves in tomato plants.

Crop handling comprises a significant chunk of the labour costs associated with the cultivation of crops such tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers. Robots offer an interesting perspective to reducing these costs and enhancing the manageability and predictability of business operations. In collaboration with a group of Dutch tomato growers, Priva has developed a robot that removes leaves from tomato plants completely independently and in an economically viable manner. It is always difficult to find workers for this labour-intensive and unpleasant task.

Many demonstration projects have been launched in the past few decades. However, none of these have led to economically viable products. This can generally be attributed to the fact that the performance exhibited by robots was never able to stand up to that of human workers in terms of speed and quality. A great deal of attention has been given to practical applicability in the development of this robot. The close involvement of a large group of growers has proven to be essential: only they can properly assess the usefulness of the robot.

Vision technology

The robot must be able to identify plants and leaves, for which cameras and smart calculation technology (vision technology) are deployed. Because no two plants are identical and the lighting conditions under which the robot operates is subject to constant change, state-of-the-art vision technology was developed. When the robot identifies a leaf, it removes it with a cutting module mounted onto its arm. This cutter must be as compact as possible to allow it to easily move through the plants, and additionally designed to effectively withstand contamination and the damaging effects of the acidic juices exuded by the tomato plant.

‘Thanks to the application of vision technology, the robot can quickly and accurately identify the position of the leaves and its speed of operation is currently at an economically viable level,’ confirms Ronald Zeelen, Manager for Innovation & Research at Priva. Of course, the robot can’t work at the same speed of an experienced human, but compensates this by being able to work 24 hours a day.

The second GreenTech Innovation Award for the most innovative product or solution will be presented during the opening of the GreenTech in Amsterdam on 14 June 2016. Category awards will be presented in three categories: production, equipment and automation solutions. One of these three winners will be chosen overall winner.

Click here for a list of all nominees for the 2016 GreenTech Innovation Award.

Photo: Priva.