Tomorrow’s agriculture relies on networked devices and automation. Cameras are an important element, and artificial intelligence is a central technology here. Intelligent applications such as harvesting robots can contribute significantly to this.
Lettuce is a valuable crop in Europe and the United States. But labor shortages make it difficult to harvest this important field vegetable, as finding enough seasonal labor to meet harvesting commitments is one of the main challenges in the sector. Moreover, since wage inflation is rising faster than producer prices, the margins are very narrow. In England, engineering and agricultural machinery specialists are developing a robotic solution for the automation of lettuce harvesting in collaboration with IDS Imaging Development Systems GmbH.
The team is working on a project funded by Innovate UK and includes experts from Landmaschinenfabrik Grimme, Agri-EPI Center (Edinburgh, UK), Harper Adams University (Newport, UK), Center for Machine Vision from the University of the West of England (Bristol) and two of the UK’s largest salad producers, G’s Fresh and PDM Produce.
The project makes it possible to adapt the existing machines responsible for harvesting leeks to lift the lettuces from the ground and pinch them between compression bands. The outer leaves of lettuce are mechanically removed to expose the stem. Using industrial image processing and artificial intelligence, a precise cutting point on the stalk is then determined to separate the lettuce head from the stalk.
“Cutting an iceberg lettuce is the most technically complicated step in the process to automate according to team members at subsidiary Salad Harvesting Services Ltd,” says Rob Webb, IDS Product Sales Specialist. A GigE Vision camera from the uEye FA family is integrated into the prototype of the harvesting robot. It is considered to be particularly resistant and is therefore ideal for demanding environments. “As this is an outdoor application, an IP65/67 enclosure is required,” Webb points out.
Meeting the challenges of tomorrow’s agriculture
The choice fell on a uEye FA model, equipped with Sony’s compact 2/3″ CMOS sensor with global shutter IMX264. “The sensor was chosen primarily for its versatility. We don’t need full resolution for AI processing, so sensitivity can be increased by compartmentalization. The larger sensor format also eliminates the need for wide-angle optics,” says Rob Webb, summarizing the requirements. In use, the CMOS sensor impresses with its exceptional image quality, light sensitivity and exceptionally high dynamic range. It delivers 5 megapixel images in 5:4 aspect ratio at 22 frames per second, virtually noise-free and with very high contrast, even in applications with fluctuating light conditions. The extensive accessories, including lens tubes and cables compatible with energy chains, are just as robust as the camera housings and screw connectors (8-pin M12 connector with X-coding and 8-pin Binder connector ). Another advantage: Internal camera functions such as pixel pre-processing, LUT or gamma reduce the required computing power to a minimum.
“We are pleased with this participation in the project and we look forward to the results. We are convinced of its potential to automate and increase the efficiency of lettuce harvesting, and not just to compensate for the lack of seasonal labour,” says Jan Hartmann, Managing Director of IDS Imaging Development Systems GmbH.
The challenges of the agricultural sector are indeed complex. According to forecasts by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), agricultural productivity will have to increase by almost 50% by 2050 compared to 2012 due to the dramatic increase in population. . Such an expectation of return represents a huge challenge for the agricultural sector, which is still at the very beginning in terms of digitization compared to other industries and which is already under great pressure to innovate in the face of change. climate change and labor shortages. Tomorrow’s agriculture relies on networked devices and automation. Cameras are an important element, and artificial intelligence is a central technology here. Intelligent applications such as harvesting robots can contribute significantly to this.
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Robotic solution for the automation of lettuce harvesting with an IDS camera
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