Agro Food Robotics

Agro Food Robotics

Go through the different phases of the below infographic and explore the possibilities offered by robots in the agro-food sector. Each link in the chain is featured and accompanied by innovative example projects. If you have any questions or require more information, please contact us.

Agro Food Robotics

Robots and drones are set to play an increasingly important role in the agriculture, livestock farming and nature conservation industries. Thanks to these emerging technologies, we will use less energy and fewer raw materials, thereby helping us avoid unpleasant working conditions, generate higher yields and improve overall quality.

Agro Food Robotics is a joint initiative of several research institutes* at Wageningen University & Research. It provides companies with the technology and knowledge needed to further develop robotics in the agricultural sector. The initiative consists of a global network of universities, knowledge institutes and companies.

This infographic explains the many possibilities in the field of robotics.

*The following research institutes collaborated on the development of Agro Food Robotics at Wageningen University & Research: Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, Wageningen Plant Research, Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra) and Wageningen Livestock Research.

Assessing quality and sorting seeds

Growing high-quality end products starts with a thorough inspection of the seeds. Assessing and sorting seeds ensures that only the highest quality seeds are used. Wageningen University & Research is developing techniques based on near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), which is used to assess the quality of each individual seed.

The system analyses the moisture, fat, protein and carbohydrate content of the seeds and assesses quality characteristics such as germination capacity, blending and colour. We use modern process spectrophotometers to quickly sort and separate high-quality seeds from low-quality seeds.

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Assessing quality and sorting seedlings

By the time the seeds have grown into seedlings, quality differences can be detected in the first stage of growth. Wageningen University & Research is developing various vision techniques, such as the Marvin technologie, which is used to measure the 3D shape, the photosynthesis activity and the colour of each plant. This allows for the efficient sorting of seedlings, which in turn ensures that only plants with a good production forecast are used in future cultivation processes.

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Assessing quality in the greenhouse

Greenhouse crops are carefully monitored by robots equipped with a variety of sensors. Aspects of the plant (biomass and photosynthesis activity) and the fruit (size, colour and shape) provide growers with the necessary information to give each plant what it needs to thrive. Wageningen University & Research is developing methods for the timely detection of diseases such as botrytis so that effective measures can be taken to reduce production loss.

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Assessing quality in the field

How are my crops doing? Do they have any diseases? Do they have any nitrogen deficiencies? To answer these questions, Wageningen University & Research is developing vision techniques to inspect plants in the field. Satellites, tractors and unmanned aircraft equipped with cameras and sensors scan the crops and provide farmers with the information they need to administer the right amount of fertiliser and pesticides. This ultimately benefits crop yields.

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Precision techniques in the field

Accurate fertilisation and weed control helps farmers optimise their crop yields. Wageningen University & Research is research precision techniques in the field, carried out by machines and robots that run on information provided by sensors. Drones, for example, can use sensor data to fertilise the land and control weeds with extreme accuracy. This saves costs and reduces the use of chemicals. It's also possible for tractors to remove weeds mechanically (i.e. without herbicides) with the help of autonomous hoes.

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Autonomous navigation

Tractors capable of autonomous navigation are being marketed with the help of research conducted by Wageningen University & Research. Self-driving machines contribute to more efficient work methods in the agricultural sector. Our research aims to make these machines even more accurate and allow them to autonomously navigate and avoid obstacles even in areas with a weak GPS signal. The latter is important for the safety of humans, animals and plants.

More information about autonomous vehicles and crop protection can be found here.

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Harvesting

After several months of intensive care, the crops are ready to be harvested. This is a busy time for many farmers, who often hire extra help. For many crops, it's not possible to harvest everything in one go. This is particularly true if there is a variation in appearance, if the product is extremely vulnerable, or if only some of the crop is suitable for harvesting. Wageningen University & Research is researching harvesting methods using robots for crops like these. The robots use sensor information to identify the harvestable products and determine the optimum removal strategy to prevent the crop from being damaged.

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Assessing quality and sorting agro-food products

Before the harvested products can be packaged or transported, it's important to determine the quality and to identify any diseases or defects. This information helps to determine the conditions under which the product must be stored. This quality assessment is currently performed by people, leading to subjective and inconsistent results. Using various sensors, such as colour cameras, hyperspectral cameras, laser sensors, X-rays and the specific lights, Wageningen University & Research is developing automatic and objective methods to assess the quality of agro-food products. This information is used to determine the right markets, among other things.

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Processing agro-food products

Some of the agro-food products are processed by robots that were developed in collaboration with Wageningen University & Research. One example of this is the cutting planter robot, which autonomously cuts roses and plants them in a pot. Robots are also being used to remove the bitter core of fruits and vegetables for the fresh-cut industry.

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Packaging agro-food products

Due to the different colours, shapes and sizes of agro-food products, as well as the differences in packaging sizes, many agro-food products are still packaged by hand. Many of today's packaging machines are not capable of taking over this job in full. Wageningen University & Research is investigating how products can be automatically packaged using robots. A sensor system is being developed based on probabilistic models, machine learning techniques and adaptive grippers. As a result, more and more agro-food products can be packaged automatically by robots.

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Automatic scanning and payment

The EasyFlow cash register, equipped with MatchX software developed by Wageningen University & Research, can identify all products on the conveyor belt without the need for a barcode. The MatchX software creates a digital fingerprint for each product, based on its weight, shape, volume, colour and composition. As a result, the MatchX software can identify the products on the conveyor belt with 99% accuracy. This means a faster payment process for customers and fewer errors and more available staff for supermarkets.

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Combining information from the production chains

By using smart data from the entire logistics chain – from harvest to supermarket sales – interesting connections can be made. These include the relationship between the initial quality of fresh products and the ultimate quality in the kitchens of consumers. By ensuring quality development throughout the chain, consumers can enjoy higher-quality fresh products and fewer product losses in the chain.

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