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Wageningen University & Research:

Interplay between knowledge of plants and robotics for innovations in precision fruit cultivation

The Next Fruit 4.0 project involves around 35 partners, all working to advance the development of technological solutions for precision fruit cultivation. Key themes for the project include digitalization, precision crop protection, labor optimization, robotization, and, above all, profitability.

Vision+Robotics researcher Jochen Hemming on the challenges of pruning, the search for a suitable camera, and the first successful robotic harvest of pears.

The Next Fruit 4.0 is a follow-up to PPP Precision Horticulture, which was a public-private partnership project also known as Fruit 4.0. The Fruit 4.0 project showed what could be achieved in the Dutch fruit cultivation sector through the use of new technology and data management. Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and the Delphy Improvement Centre are now implementing The Next Fruit 4.0 as a follow-up project on behalf of stakeholders, including the Dutch Fruit Growers Organisation (NFO) and FME (the Dutch employers' organization for the technology industry). Researchers from Vision + Robotics, powered by WUR, are providing crucial contributions to the project through several work packages.

Overall, the project is a broad partnership made up of representatives from the private sector and fruit growers, all working together to improve the sustainability of fruit cultivation and the supply chain and to maximize yields and minimize costs. A notable feature of The Next Fruit 4.0 is a financial contribution made by the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, which is facilitating collaboration with US universities and private sector actors.

Six work packages
The project is divided into six work packages:

  1. Sensing
  2. Management information
  3. Robotization
  4. Preconditions
  5. Implementation, economic validation innovation adoption, and
  6. An innovation circle

In practice, this means detecting trees, branches, fruits and blossoms for the purpose of precision crop protection, for example. It also includes the use of sensor technology to detect stress, disease, and pests and to monitor crops and products (both pre-harvest and post-harvest). And it means using grippers for the roboticised pruning and harvesting of pears in particular, and the pruning of redcurrant bushes.

Grippers for robotic pruning and harvesting
Dr Jochen Hemming, senior research associate in computer vision & robotics at Vision + Robotics, is responsible for the robotization work package and explains why pears and redcurrants were chosen specifically. "At the global level, there's a relatively strong focus, both scientifically and commercially, on robots for picking apples. But the harvest period in the Netherlands is just six to eight weeks, and in fact more pears than apples are now grown in Benelux. Also, the project is being funded by fruit growers who are members of the NFO, as well as the top sector Horticulture & Propagation Materials, and Dutch industry.

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