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Robotics Case Studies

Automated Broccoli Transplanter

Motivo Engineering

CLIENT

Greenheart Farms is one of California's leading vegetable producers and transplant services providers. As labor resources become scarcer and costs increase, Greenheart has been dedicated to developing technical solutions to remain an industry leader. Greenheart and Motivo teamed up to develop an automated transplanter.

CHALLENGE

Nature is messy! Not only did the transplanter need to significantly reduce the crew size required to transplant while maintaining or improving performance, it needed to be able to account for fluctuations in moisture content throughout the day, different maturation stages of broccoli, and variations in root structure, stems, and leaves. Additionally, a major design driver was the need for a modular system which could interface with the existing Greenheart flats (packages of seedlings ready for transplanting). Even though the flats have a very high yield, the transplanter needed to be able to selectively transplant only the good seedlings. Being farm equipment, the transplanter needed to be mechanically robust, able to tolerate dirt and moisture, and have reliable controls.

MOTIVO’S SOLUTION

Motivo worked closely with Greenheart throughout the project. This involved on-site evaluations, learning the current transplanting process, reviewing conceptual designs, early vetting of key subsystems to mitigate risks, design, build and testing. The result is a lightweight automated transplanter with a compact form factor and intelligent system for vegetable detection. It has a smaller footprint than existing transplanters with fewer moving parts, making it easy to service. The transplanter plants a single line and is capable of a wide variety of spacings which allows for flexibility in bed configurations. The novel seedling plug acquisition method, pneumatics for vegetable transport, and vegetable selection vision system are the pillars of this machine’s innovative design.

OUTCOME

Motivo was able to develop a revolutionary transplanter that reduces in-field labor and is able to achieve three transplants per second at >95% success rate (machine vision confirmed). The transplanter is versatile enough to be applied to other vegetables and will have a global impact on an industry that hasn’t seen development in several decades. Motivo delivered the initial prototype after roughly six months of intensive effort. The transplanter is being showcased at the 2019 World Ag Expo. Further development including volume production is scheduled for 2019.

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