BGU researchers partner with EU countries on pepper harvesting robot

"Sweeper" program to develop first generation of harvesting robots on the market.

February 22, 2015 18:12
1 minute read.
A demonstration of the picking arm.

A demonstration of the picking arm at BGU as part of the preceding CROPS program with former PhD student Efi Vitzrabin . (photo credit: DANI MACHLIS/BGU)

Researchers from Ben-Gurion University are teaming up with European partners to develop the first market- ready sweet pepper harvesting robot.

The robot, which will be the first harvesting robot in the world to operate in a commercial greenhouse, is being developed under the European Union’s Sweeper program, which aims to put the first generation of harvesting robots on the market. Sweeper’s target market for now is the sweet pepper, of which 1.3 million metric tons are harvested in Europe annually, the project partners said.

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The program, coordinated by Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands, involves a network of international partners from Israel, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands. Supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program, the partnership involves universities, research institutes, a system integrator and a large sweet pepper grower, the partners said.

The concept behind the sweet pepper harvesting robot was initiated in a previous EU project called Crops, which was part of the EU’s Seventh Framework Program.

From the Israeli side, professors Yael Edan of BGU’s industrial engineering and management department and Ohad Ben-Shahar of the university’s computer science department will lead the project, together with Dr.

Yisrael Parmet and their PhD students Polina Kurtser, Boaz Arad, Ehud Barnea, Efrat Taig and Rotem Mairon.

The BGU researchers are leading the sensing development section of the project – such as fruit detection, localization and ripeness, Edan explained. As a world-renown expert in computer vision, Ben-Shahar’s work involves improving detection mechanisms that have thus far caused a bottleneck in implementation of the technology, she added.

Edan herself will be leading the system design and task-planning aspect of the project, as she has been involved in agrobotics research and development since the 1980s, and was the first to develop an experimental field crops robot in the 1990s.

“The new project aims also to design an optimal crop similar to industrial practice in which robots are entered into the production floor,” she said.

Eden stressed, however, that despite the fact that robots can help reduce manpower needs, the researchers do not intend to see the robot take over human work entirely. Rather, the robots can “contribute to additional work,” she said.

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