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Crux Agribotics: The future of cucumbers harvesting - robot for automated agriculture labors

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Crux Agribotics (Crux Agribotics: The future of cucumbers harvesting - robot for automated agriculture labors)

Reporting period: 2017-08-01 to 2017-11-30

Beltech B.V. core business within Crux Agribotics project is to automate the handling of organic products, crops and vegetables, and the data derived from the process – starting by cucumbers as a primary target market segment. This value is delivered through the combination of high-end vision, robotics and mechatronics technology, with machine learning and Big Data, providing smart and autonomous systems. The system offers them flexibility to deal with changing demand in terms of product variety and capacity. Crux Agribotics started with the aim to increase productivity within the agro-food industry in a sustainable and environmentally friendly and compatible manner. We have worked on the automation of cucumber production, with the multinational company Bayer, as our key collaborator. As a result, we have already developed a prototype of Crux Agribotics project, consisting of an autonomous robot for harvesting, quality checks and packaging cucumber high-wire cultivation, in high-tech greenhouses. Concerning the cucumber market, current circumstances such as scarce labor resources along with increased labor costs, mainly in developed countries, cucumber production is inefficient, with neither yield control nor quality, being affected by human capacities. Manual harvesting and crops handling harm growers’ business at the time of retailing, with prices fluctuate depending on production volume and crops weight/size per unit. Currently cucumber grading, sorting and packaging are done manually by human operators, or through semi-automated traditional sorters handling one type of product or class of product. However, at the end there still humans to load the sorters or to package the cucumbers. Though manual packaging allows high flexibility towards retailers’ demands, it is inefficient management of labour costs and time. Overall, current automated packaging solutions lack flexibility and cost reduction. Through Phase 2, we aim to 1) finalize design, upgrade, optimization and adaptation of the industrial target version of the machine. 2) Internal validation of final design through software simulation and functional testing for the system calibration. 3) External validation in a cucumber greenhouse. 4) CE Marking. 5) Start of the commercialization into the EU market by 2020. Through Crux Agribotics sales, Beltech B.V. is expecting to generate, by 2024, €31.7M of revenues, €21.9M of cumulative EBIDTA and ROI of 5.13.
The main objective of this FS was to ensure that Crux Agribotics meets the technical, commercial & financial requirements for its successful implementation and commercialization. Technical results: A) harvesting system: 1) Optimized harvesting system works 7 years in all weather conditions, 13.6 secs measuring cycle time. 2) Vision System & Visual Serving optimization for improved accuracy & exact weight/size detection. 3. Self-learning algorithm optimization for further industrial adaptation, faster & smoother robot movement: a) new calibration using transformation algorithm; b) automatic robot path execution, through simulations, reducing singularity, axis limit & out of reach problems; c) improved cucumber heads detection, faster machine-learning algorithm. 4) s) Robot movements’ optimization not damaging plants; b) design respecting human safety; c) Design respecting crops quality and safety. B) Packaging system: 1) Optimized packaging system designed to handle different size of cucumbers. 2) Vision System classifies passing cucumbers based on length, thickness and curvature. 3) System features functional HMI, fence and other safety equipment.
Commercial results: 1) global cucumber surface counts on 257,000HA; while high-tech greenhouses represent 2,179HA, where high-wire cultivation surface reaches 719HA. 2) Crux Agribotics obtainable cucumber market cumulative surface expected at 2,033HA in the long term. 3) Global high-wire cucumber growing in high-tech greenhouses reaches €318M; where cucumber harvesting market value reaches €133M, and packaging of €58M. 4) For commercial deployment, we have selected target areas starting by Europe in high-wire cucumber expanding to traditional greenhouses.
Financial results: Crux Agribotics will sold as CAPEX system priced between €120,000-€160,000/harvesting robot, and €500,000-650,000€/grading, sorting & packaging robot; price depending on system configuration. In a 5-years commercialization: we are expecting 22% cumulative market share; Selling 5 harvesting robots by 2020 and 120 units by 2024; 5 packaging robots by 2020 and 25 units by 2024; generating revenues of €31.7M cumulative EBITDA of €21.9M and ROI of 5.13; with required investment of €2,126,432.
The Novelty of Crux Agribotics Innovation is the combination of high-end vision, robotics and mechatronics technology with machine self-learning and big data delivering a smart and autonomous robot that operates 24/7. Growers worldwide will be able to focus on their core business and competencies, thanks a disruptive improvement of cucumbers production and how greenhouses will be equipped in the future. The system will profit growers from increased yield, as well as improvements in quality handling. Importantly, the more season deviations perceived, the better trained the vision and robotic system will become. This way, growers will profit from the worldwide usage of the robots and from the improvements implemented from these data.
Harvesting Process Models rely on the manual process in open-field without a greenhouse or low-tech simple nets. This process only lets growers increase in capacity by expanding in m² or by adding more employees. Thus, these methods offer neither growth control nor productivity increase, and yield is highly dependent on human factors. Nevertheless, there are other alternatives featuring technology which are high-tech or high-wire methods equipped with advanced systems of ventilation, water and electricity. These are the most advanced technologies nowadays and offer growing with the largest potential in terms of productivity per surface and quality. Thus, they are labor intensive and require additional attention on the greenhouse state and available services (more labor costs/m² & less labor costs/cucumber). Currently, there are no existing robotic alternatives to current crops harvesting process models, as many are in the R&D development stage and none of them are implemented in the agriculture market. There are no working prototypes having industrial speeds & reliability resulting in financially attractive harvesting machine. Packaging Process Models rely on technologies being implemented to automate crops packaging. However, it is yet to be fully automatic, as it still relies on human intervention, during grading & sorting for some existing solutions, or packaging for others. This not only implies that persons manning sorting machines are obsolete, but the actual sorting machine and its associated costs for usage also become fully obsolete. Crux Agribotics Steps up Current Cucumber State-of-the-art offering growers flexibility of product variety and capacity.
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