SWEEPER is the most advanced sweet pepper harvesting robot in the world. The system was designed and developed by a consortium of researchers, growers, and automation experts who banded together to help create the greenhouse of the future.
The SWEEPER is not only a step towards increasing greenhouse efficiency, but it also helps reduce dependence on labor in a continuously stressed labor market.
The robot is an autonomous mobile platform that has a robotic arm with an end effector used for harvesting. The robot scans the crop and a camera helps find and harvest ripe peppers using a small cutting tool.
The plan is to eventually add a conveyor to the robot that will fill autonomous pepper trolleys as the crop is harvested.
SWEEPER is built to work in a single stem row cropping system, and it can identify and harvest ripe vegetables in 24 seconds. While the robot is the next step towards the fully automated greenhouse, there is still work to be done as it only has a success rate of 62%.
The researchers are now working to make it faster, more accurate, and capable of harvesting additional crops. It could be commercially available as early as 2022.
According to the researchers, these autonomous systems will not only enable around-the-clock harvesting but also reduce food waste.
According to the Produce Market Guide, bell peppers accounted for more than $1.5 billion in retail sales in 2016 and only 2.5% of the total produce market. In 2016, retailers sold more than 800 million pounds of product, so automating the process may help save a couple backs as well.