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Scientists developing cauliflower harvesting machine

Staff writer |
Machines that harvest vegetables pick everything at once – even unripe heads when harvesting cauliflower. This is why human helpers often perform this tedious job.

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In the future, a machine will make selective harvesting possible fully automatically. Fraunhofer researchers are developing this smart harvester together with industry partners.

Harvesting cauliflower is a science unto itself because the white heads are hidden beneath numerous leaves. This means that pickers have to pull back the protective leaves head for head to look at the cauliflower and decide whether it is ripe for harvesting.

Pickers comb a field approximately four to five times in intervals of two to three days until the very last head of cauliflower has been harvested. This work is strenuous and backbreaking. Another challenge for farmers is their need for numerous pickers at once for a short time when harvest season is pending.

Finding enough hands for this hard work is often difficult, though. Machines on the other hand would harvest the entire field at once and, since cauliflower heads ripen at different rates, thus even heads that are still too small or unripe.

In the future, a machine will harvest cauliflower just as selectively as human workers would. This machine is called VitaPanther.

It is being developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF and and their colleagues at ai-solution GmbH together with five other partners: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University Hannover, Steig GmbH, Beutelmann Gemüseanbau, König Sondermaschinenbau GmbH and Inokon GmbH. A prototype of VitaPanther will be finished and tested in 2017.

This machine will benefit farmers in several ways: It will harvest cauliflower heads significantly faster than human pickers and could additionally work at night, too. Another plus is that farmers will be able to dispense with troublesome searches for workers.

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