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Engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute are working on developing advanced robots that can pluck crops and fruits from trees or bushes.
Research team is developing a dual-arm robot for automated harvesting of cucumbers, which can save the time and efforts invested by manual pickers. “The main difficulty is to recognize and localize the green fruits in green environment, to separate them without damaging or injuring the cucumber and plant. Other disturbances such as obstacles or moisture in a dynamic unstructured environment make the task more difficult,” said Dr. Dragoljub Surdilovic, one of the researchers involved in the project.
As a part of developing the robot, the team has utilized combination of 2D and 3D cameras having multispectral vision. It can detect fully grown and ripe cucumbers up to 94% accuracy. The robotic arm search by removing leaves in in the way of harvesting cucumbers. The robot is reported to be as efficient as an experienced human picker. It can pick as many as 13 cucumbers per minute. The major advantage of using this system for harvesting yield is that will it be functional throughout the year with no holidays. However, researchers believe that they need to work on integration of sensors to the gripers for accurate identification of cucumbers. Also, separation of cucumbers from the rest is major problem which need to be addressed.
Moreover, grippers and algorithms to detect the stems using force sensing, and devices capable of following the contours of fruit to detect and cut the stems are also in process of development. Surdilovic reported that the technology will be rolled out in near future. “A community of farmers and cucumber producers support us, showing a big interest and needs for robotic technology,” he said. “Lack of seasonal workers and relatively higher labor costs jeopardize production of cucumbers and similar cultivars, not only in German, but also globally.”
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