Harvesting robot picks a peck of peppers and more

The world’s most advanced sweet pepper harvesting robot, developed by a consortium that includes Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers, was introduced at the Research Station for Vegetable Production at St. Katelijne Waver in Belgium.

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The robot is called Sweeper and is designed to operate in a single-stem row cropping system, with non-clustered fruits and little leaf occlusion.

Preliminary test results showed that by using a commercially available crop modified to mimic the required conditions, the robot currently harvests ripe fruit in 24 seconds with a success rate of 62%.

The BGU team spearheaded efforts to improve the robot’s ability to detect ripe produce using computer vision, and has played a role in defining the specifications of the robot’s hardware and software interfaces, focusing on supervisory control activities.

Additional research is needed to increase the robot’s work speed to reach a higher harvest success rate.

Based upon the latest results, the Sweeper consortium expects that a commercial sweet pepper harvesting robot will be available within four to five years, and that the technology could be adapted for harvesting other crops.

North America is the second-largest producer of sweet (bell) and chilli peppers in the world, with a 31% market share.

In 2017 Europe accounted for more than half the world’s pepper supply (53.2%) with exports valued at $ 2.7bn.