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Robot Pollinator Eliminates Need For Bees
Commercial tomato growers worldwide have the opportunity to use artificial intelligence to eliminate the problems of working with bees.
“The way pollination is done around most of the world is by using industrially-grown bumblebees,” says Eytan Heller, co-founder and Vice President of Business Development for Israeli-based Arugga AI Farming. “They’re grown in laboratories, packed in carton hives, and then shipped to growers around the world.”
While tomato plants self-pollinate, bumblebees give them some help in knocking the pollen loose and onto the plant’s female organ.
However, there are some disadvantages to using bees. They don’t do well above 86 degrees, which can be a big challenge for growers.
“Other issues include bees transmitting viruses between plants inside a greenhouse,” says Heller “They’re also sensitive to pesticides and can’t be around when you spray plants, so there are some big drawbacks.”
Countries like Australia don’t allow growers to import bees due to biosecurity concerns. That means growers often have to manually pollinate their plants, which is a time-consuming and expensive process.
Arugga AI Farming launched in 2017. In one year, they demonstrated proof of concept, and two years later were operating their first AI robot in a commercial greenhouse.
Arugga named their robot “Polly,” and it’s made out of easy-to-source materials they could get “off-the-shelf” from different companies.
“We added a mast on top of the robot that consists of four cameras on both sides of the mast,” Heller says. “An air pressure system shakes each plant’s pollen loose.”
The robot recognizes when a plant is ready for pollination based on what the AI programming sees through the cameras. Heller says they had to create an enormous databank of flowers ready for pollination from many different angles.
“What we’ve done with the programming is teach the computer to recognize a flower’s readiness,” Heller says. “It’s working well as we have a successful readiness detection rate of 97 percent.”
The robot moves through the greenhouse between the rows of plants via tracks. In addition to pollination, the company plans to add non-contact pruning as well as pest and disease protection.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Eytan Heller, Arugga AI Farming Ltd., “Yarok” at Ruppin Academic Center,
Kfar Monash 4287500, Israel (info@arugga.com; www.arugga.com).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #1