Brabant start-up Crux Agribotics has developed the world's first fully automated cucumber harvesting robot. The robot is unique because it also harvests cucumbers deeply hidden between the leaves of cucumber plants. The robot uses a machine learning algorithm, which allows it to independently determine which cucumbers are ripe for cultivation, and which cucumbers are diseased.
The harvesting robot consists of a trolley with rotating cameras and a flexible grab arm. The cameras make 3D images of the crop from a variety of angles, after which the robot uses special software to build up a complete picture of where cucumbers are located. The robot then sends the coordinates of each cucumber to the grab arm, which clamps the cucumber by the stem.
Since the robot visualises the crop from different angles, it also sees cucumbers hidden deep between foliage. Special software converts various images into a whole, and controls the grab arm. According to Richard Vialle, co-founder and director of Crux Agribotics, the robot picks 96 percent of all ripe cucumbers. A limited number of employees follow the robot to pick any cucumbers which are missed.
Vialle says that the data collected by the robot is very important. The robot uses a machine learning algorithm, allowing it to assess more accurately which cucumbers are ripe for picking. The grower is partly responsible for this learning process. According to Vialle, "The robot sends the grower a picture when in doubt, and asks what it should do with the cucumber in question." The robot also learns to recognise diseased cucumbers in this way.
Harvesting, sorting and packing
A major advantage of the machine learning algorithm used by Crux Agribotics is that a robot can also sort and pack cucumbers. However, the advantages of the algorithm do not stop there. Vialle says, “The learning algorithm means that the robot can also make predictions, such as how the cucumber will grow, or how many days before a cucumber is ripe."
On the market
Crux Agribotics has tested the fully automated cucumber robot with a number of growers, and is currently working on developing an industrial product that can be used anywhere in the world. “We need another two years for this, and are we looking for strategic investors," says Vialle. Crux Agribotics is also developing similar robots for pepper and tomato crops.
Text: Leo Hoekstra. Photo: Crux Agribotics.