CROPS, the international Dutch robotics project based in Wageningen, the Netherlands, is a partnership between fourteen businesses and research centers from ten different countries. CROPS stands for Clever Robot for Crops, meaning that this is a robot that should lighten the load of human workers in the greenhouse sector. In this industry, a surprising amount of work is still done by human hands, and high labor costs and poor labor availability makes CROPS an economically viable project.
This harvesting robot will have the advantages of being able to work around the clock (24/7) and improve food safety by reducing human-plant contact. It will also be possible to increase the heat and humidity in the greenhouses, which would normally result in impossible working conditions for humans, to increase plant growth.
All these advantages will lead to improving profits on a short term and the fact that countries without a tropical climate can compete better in the world market. Where robotics are widely used in other industries, such as the car industry, the agricultural sector has fallen behind due to the unstructured shapes of living plants. This makes it more difficult for robots to identify their targets and work efficiently.
The CROPS project wants to develop robots that can spray with aim, so that they will only spray affected areas. The robot will have to be able to recognize a fruit in an unstructured area, distinguish ripe for unripe and harvest the correct fruit with a blade, without damaging surrounding plants or other parts of the target plant.
The CROPS project is subsidized by the European Commission in the 7th Framework Programme.