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deleafing robot

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Priva won the GreenTech Innovation Award 2016 yesterday at the international trade show in Amsterdam. The company was the winner in the category Equipment as well as the overall winner, beating a total of 73 entries.  With the robot, christened Kompano at the Priva stand, deleafing tomato plants can be done completely automatically and profitably for the first time.

The prize was awarded during the opening of the GreenTech on 14 June by the chairman of the jury, Aalt Dijkhuizen. In the jury’s opinion, the robot is an innovative solution for tomato growers for the difficult work of deleafing. The robot is able to do it entirely independently. In addition, it is an economically appealing alternative. Because it very accurately removes the leaves from tomato plants, viruses do not get a chance to spread.

Development

The development of the robot took at least 15 years. Priva developed the robot in cooperation with a large number of growers, so the product has received ample field testing. The jury views Priva’s innovation as the start of a large series of robots, which will be developed for horticulture in the coming years to efficiently take care of strenuous work. They therefore identified the Priva deleafing robot as heralding the beginning of a new era for international horticulture.

Thanks to the most up-to-date vision technologies, the robot can work day and night. This allows the robot to work, on average, just as fast as a human. The accuracy of deleafing is about 95%. Three growers from the consortium that developed the robot - Lans, Prominent and Vereijken Kwekerijen - will be the first to start working with the robot. From June of 2017 on, the robot will also be available to growers outside the consortium. Pre-orders may be placed online.

Priva will put the robot on the market as a service, so that growers will be able to benefit from the innovation immediately, without incurring high investment costs. With this first generation of the deleafing robot, 0.75 to 1 hectare of tomatoes can be serviced. For larger growing surfaces several robots will be needed, or it can be combined with manual labour.

Two more winners

In addition to Priva, the international jury also awarded two nominations with a category Award. ISO Group won a prize in the category Production and the HortMax-Go! by Ridder HortiMax Group won in the category Automation Solutions. The ISO Plant sampler is able to independently take samples from leaves and collect the DNA material on a microplate. In the jury’s opinion, the ISO Plant sampler offers a great, automated technique that enables work to be carried out fast and with precision.

According to the jury, the HortiMaX-Go! is a modern, user-friendly, affordable climate control and greenhouse irrigation computer. The modular system uses smart switches that can be installed in a plug-and-play manner. The innovation is intended to be entry level, so that growers all over the world will be able to use this technology.

Photo: Mario Bentvelsen.

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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.