Sustainable, intensive agriculture will help to address current and future challenges facing an increasing global population. One way to improve agricultural productivity is through automation, but this requires complex and sophisticated engineering. The CROPS (Intelligent sensing and manipulation for sustainable production and harvesting of high value crops, clever robots for crops) project developed a robotic platform capable of site-specific spraying and selective fruit harvesting. The robots were designed to harvest high-value crops such as greenhouse vegetables, fruits in orchards and grapes for premium wines. The technology developed will be able to detect the fruit, sense its ripeness, and then move to grasp and gently detach only the ripe fruit. Project partners also developed robots that can detect and classify a wide range of objects. By assessing obstacles and other objects, these robots will be capable of autonomous navigation and operation in plantations and forests. Requirements for the sensing systems as well as the supervisory control system of the platform were established. System architectures for sensing and grasping fruit were developed, and manipulator prototypes were manufactured and tested. A fully functional robot was built for harvesting sweet peppers and apples and was tested successfully in the laboratory, greenhouse and orchard. The same robot was used for targeted spraying in the vineyard. For canopy spraying in orchards a special robot was built and tested. The CROPS team predicts that this robotic platform will eventually reduce harvest costs by an estimated 40 %. It could also have a significant environmental impact by reducing pesticide applications by 30 %. Selective application of pesticides on susceptible targets, such as only on grape bunches, will result in a 90 % reduction of chemicals. Less chemical residue on crops will lead to improved product quality, and using the robotic system will enable the product to be harvested at the optimal time. In addition, removing the need for humans to handle the produce will reduce exposure to agricultural chemicals and improve food safety. The ability to determine the quality of each individual fruit and the chemical composition of harvested bunches of grapes will also help to improve the quality and consistency of wines. CROPS will lead to the creation of high-tech jobs in the machine and sensing industries, thereby strengthening the rural economy and reducing migration to urban areas. Furthermore, the successful development and production of agricultural and forestry robots will enable Europe's machine industry to maintain its position as a global leader in this sector.
Robotic platform, fruit, agriculture, crops, harvesting, wines, pesticide