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Robotics to help with agricultural work

The Center for Automation and Robotics, a joint center of the CSIC and the Polytechnic University of Madrid, has developed a prototype robot to help in grape harvest. Developed in the H2020 FlexiGroBots project, the robot has been presented at the Transfiere forum.

Robert, the grape harvest assistance robot, was tested 
in the Terras Gauda winery, Galicia, where also a system with drones for early pest detection ans treatment was testedRobert, developed by a team from the Center for Automation and Robotics, a joint centre of the CSIC and the Polytechnic University of Madrid, is part of a collaborative work scheme in the context of manual harvesting.

The robot allows human worker to focus on the task of collecting the fruit while the robot provides the physical strength, carrying a crate that can reach a weight of 20 kg or more when is plenty. The prototype Robert (acronym for 'Robot for collaborative manual harvesting') was successfully tested in the pilot program at the Terras Gauda winery, in Galicia.

The robot follows the worker along the vineyards, who harvest the grape bunches and puts them in the crate of the robotic vehicle. When the crate is plenty, the robot moves autonomously to a specific location for unloading the crate. At the same time, another robot with an empty crate takes the place following the human worker.

"The benefits of this technology are many, the most important of which are the reduction of injuries to workers and the improvement of wine quality, because it allows the grapes to reach the winery immediately for processing," explains Ángela Ribeiro, CAR researcher and project director. The technology can be applied to any crop that is manually harvested, but it is especially interesting for soft and delicate fruits that have to be carefully manipulated, as is the case with wine grapes - In these cases, automatic harvesting techniques are discarded because they can damaged the fruits. The scientific team is currently studying strategies to bring this new technology to market.

FlexiGroBots, a project to help with agricultural works

Robert is an outcome of the European project FlexiGroBots, aimed at applying robotics and artificial intelligence techniques for helping in agricultural work. Scientists from 8 European countries are involved in the project. Three pilots are being developed, one of them is carried out in Spain and counts with the involvement of the CSIC, the winery Terras Gauda, the Wageningen University and the company SERESCO.

The team led by Ángela Ribeiro works in the project for automating the tasks developed at the vineyards with land robotics. Thus, besides the development of Robert, they also work for detecting botrytis, a fungi that can cause many losses in the vineyards, by means of drones (with the Wageningen University) and land robotics, as well as using image techniques to early identify the first signs of botrytis in the plants.

They are also developing methodologies for applying treatments on the affected parts of the plant by land robots. In this case, the development would enable an early detection of the disease and a treatment more precise, as the phytosanitaires are applied only on the affected parts of the plant.

The other pilots of FlexiGroBots are aimed at implementing robotics to fight pests in rapeseed crops (Finland) and to improve management of berries crops (Serbia and Lithuania). The project FlexiGroBots has 16 partners from 8 countries, with research centres and companies among them.

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