Researchers have developed an advanced sweet pepper harvesting robot that is designed to operate in a single stem row cropping system, with non-clustered fruits and little leaf occlusion.
The findings showed that by using a commercially available crop modified to mimic the required conditions, the robot harvests ripe fruits in 24 seconds with a success rate of 62 per cent.
The robot, named "Sweeper", picks methodically and accurately, said co-author Polina Kurtser from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, Israel.
"When it is fully developed, it will enable harvesting 24/7, drastically reduce spoilage, cut labour costs and shield farmers from market fluctuations," Kurtser added.
Based upon these latest results, the "Sweeper" consortium expects that a commercial sweet pepper harvesting robot will be available within four to five years and that the technology could be adapted for harvesting other crops, the researchers said.
The robot was introduced last week at the Research Station for Vegetable Production at St. Katelijne Waver in Belgium.
Robotic harvesting will revolutionise the economics of the agriculture industry and dramatically reduce food waste, the researchers said.
The team spearheaded efforts to improve the robot's ability to detect ripe produce using computer vision and has played a role in defining the specifications of the robot's hardware and software interfaces, focusing on supervisory control activities.
The team says that additional research is needed to increase the robot's work speed to reach a higher harvest success rate.