Finding employees is becoming increasingly difficult for growers in the greenhouse horticulture industry. This is mainly because working in a greenhouse can be physically demanding and monotonous. Because of this, there is a high demand for automation in this industry.
Cutting and harvesting
SAIA, a tech spin-off of Wageningen University & Research (WUR), focuses on robotizing human actions in greenhouses. “Cutting leaves or harvesting, for example. This is often still manual labour, but robots can also do it”, says Ruud Barth. Barth is the director of SAIA, and the FD proclaimed him as one of the Young Talents of 2020 – innovators under the age of 35 who set the tone in the Netherlands and abroad.
Video: a deleaf robot
“Tens of millions of leaves and fruits have to be cut or picked each year in a standard-sized greenhouse”, Barth tells Oost NL. “Robots will be able to take over this work step by step; the technology has improved enormously recently.” SAIA also looks beyond just the robotics: “We are developing an integral system solution in which cultivation systems and quality optimization will be included.”
SAIA Agrobotics can further develop its robotics technology with the new investments that they attracted at the end of last year. One of the investors is Thematic Technology Transfer (TTT), a partnership built around the four Dutch technical universities, TNO and RVO. The other investor is ION+, an innovation fund for SMEs in Gelderland, of which Oost NL is the fund manager.
Barth: “Growers are very excited when we speak to them. We hope to be able to offer a solution to them as soon as possible, with these investments. WUR has gained a lot of experience in greenhouse horticulture with robots over the past twenty years, and we can see that the technology is now ready for commercial use.”