Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture is developing a harvester for broccoli. This robot is different from other mechanical harvesters by adding a selectivity feature: an intelligent Computer Vision system registers and selects only the broccoli of a pre-determined exact size and leaves the remainder until another optimal harvesting moment is reached.
A broccoli crop does not grow in an uniform manner; every broccoli in the field differs in size significantly. The demand from the market however is a uniform product. Currently only manual harvesting can select a specific size, though this is very labour intensive work and moreover dependant on subjective measurement which are not always consistent. There is also a mechanical solution for harvest broccoli, but these machines do not yet differentiate between big or small; all broccoli is harvested in one pass.
In cooperation with Mijno van Dijk Mechanisatie BV en Agritronics BV, a new harvester is being developed that can combine these two harvesting methods optimally and improves them. The harvest will be automated, but it will also be able to run in multiple passes through the crop so only the broccoli of the exact desired size are harvested.
The new harvesting method does not only better meet the market’s demands, but also has other far reaching implications. It opens the door for all kinds of additional tasks such as visual quality inspection before the harvest. It is also possible to collect useful information about the field, like field productivity and quality distributions.
The module that is responsible for the Computer Vision and added intelligence to the harvesting robot, is created by Wageningen Horticulture. Recently, researcher Ruud Barth has been awarded with the Young Professional Award by the European Machine Vision Association (EMVA) for his contribution to the project.