Asparagus harvesting machine using AI to be available in Spring 2023
There are few crops that are as hard on the body as picking asparagus.
The process hasn’t changed much in the last few decades, as it is common to see workers hunched over, hand picking the ripe stalks for hours at a time.
Harvest Corp Technology and Triton innovation in Tillsonburg began working on a machine that would change that.
“Harvest is very difficult and very time consuming. So, we decided that we had a couple pretty good ideas on how we could find and pick asparagus in the field and go through multiple times,” said, Steve Spanjers president of Triton Innovation.
The pandemic exasperated the need for a new way to harvest as labour shortages created crop shortages according to Harvest Corp Technology president Rick Derycke.
“Like half the crop was only harvested, just because of the labour shortages and the trials and tribulations around COVID,” said Derycke.
The machine would use a sensor to identify what stalk is ready to cut, but that also came with a challenge.
“Asparagus as it comes up in the field is very difficult to identify from weeds and other things because it is relatively thin,” said Spanjers.
But with the use of artificial intelligence the machine was able to discern the difference.
“That’s where the magic of machine learning comes in, we’ve leveraged some of the new emerging technologies, open source, as well developed our own code, to optimize asparagus picking,” said Lee Porath, controls technician at Triton Innovation.
Now the collaboration has found the right balance and the machine can identify and cut asparagus as it drives down the rows, almost endlessly.
Spanjers said the company is looking at adding a solar power option in future, and instead of a five or six person crew, only one worker will be required to operate the machine.
A commercial four-row machine is also in development according to Derycke.
“We’re hoping to have our four row machine up and running and for sale for spring,” he said.
The machine will be geared toward commercial asparagus farmers with a price they estimate will pay off over five years.