The first automated asparagus harvesting machines are ready to be tested this season. "All its functionalities have been tested. The machine is ready to, independently, free the asparagus beds of their ready-to-harvest asparagus. Well in advance of the coming harvesting season", reports the Dutch engineering firm, AVL Motion.
This company made the work it was doing on the selective harvesting robot known in October 2017. This could be a solution for, among other things, the challenges of the labour market. This is because of the increased burden of employing (often foreign) staff. The machine will be further tested in the upcoming season. The functionalities will be fine-tuned. This season will also focus on tests of endurance and resistance to weather conditions. The idea, during the development of this harvester, was that it needed to function mechanically as much as possible.
The more electronics and technology used for control, the higher the chance of malfunctions, especially during bad weather. A mechanical problem is also easier to solve than, for instance, a software malfunction. The machine, therefore, works mainly mechanically. Sand, rain, water, and wind can, however, throw a proverbial spanner in the works. According to Arno van Lankveld, owner and founder of AVL Motion: "We will only bring the machine to market once all the risks have been eliminated. It must also function completely according to plan."
Compact machine that works autonomously
The machine is distinctive in two areas. Firstly, the harvesting robot operates entirely independently. During harvesting, the machine follows the asparagus bed at a constant speed. There is a sheet guiding mechanism at the front of the machine. This loosens the plastic sheet from the asparagus bed. The machine detects the end of the bed itself. Here is the only time human help is needed. The machine is turned using a joystick. It then continues on its way along the next bed. The machine determines where the asparagus is. It cuts the asparagus off at the correct height using a patented harvesting module. After that, it is carefully removed from the soil. One harvest done in this manner takes a fraction of the time of a traditional harvest. After the harvest, the machine ensures that the bed is restored. The sandbed, therefore, remains intact for the whole season. Since the machine has caterpillar tracks, there is also minimal soil pressure.
The second, and attractive, element is the machine's compactness. For transportation between fields, the machine fits on a tipping trailer. It can, thus, be transported by a driver with a BE driving license.
The machine works around the clock. Approximately one out of each eight hours is spent offloading the asparagus and turning the machine at the end of each row. AVL's advice is to harvest once a day. More than 19 fewer people have to be employed per 16 hectares. Only three people are needed to operate this machine over an entire 24-hour day. The fact that the machine is self-driving, and only needs to be run by one person, further saves on productivity. The client's tractor can then be used for other work. The plan is to put the robot on the market at the end of the 2018 asparagus season. It should then be in operation in national and international asparagus fields in the 2019 season.