How a asparagus from the farmer, the death has prompted a robotics innovation

It seems that there are few jobs, the robots can’t do these days, even the most delicate jobs, such as picking asparagus, or potting seedlings of the plant. But they are only necessary because humans can’t – or won’t do the work, farmers say.

Marc Vermeer had a problem. He was finding it hard to attract workers to choose their white asparagus crops in the netherlands.

The workers it does hire moved quickly, so it has always been the training of new people.

White asparagus must be taken at a given time while it is still under the ground, otherwise it turns green.

It is often difficult to detect and can be easily damaged.

In 2000, fed up with his situation, Marc challenged his inventor brother Ad to make a robot to replace human workers.

Therese van Vinken

Ad had been the design of complicated machinery for decades in the semiconductor industry. They came up with some ideas to try, but nothing worked.

Fourteen years later, and more and more work issues, Marc has insisted that the Ad should now be able to come up with a machine capable of “seeing” deep into the soil to pull out the asparagus as well as a human.

This time the Ad was seen as a way forward to using the new technology.

“Selective harvesting is really complex, you need hi-tech sensors, you need electronics, you need the robotics,” he said.

“But these complex hi-tech machines increasingly feasible to develop because the technology improves.”

With the Announcement of the wife, Therese van Vinken, an expert on the funding, they founded a robotics start-up Cerescon.

“Mark knew the asparagus farmers, and he had an experience of selling,” Ms. van Vinken said.

“The case has been Marc the commercial part, Ad development, and Therese takes care of the money.”

But the day after the celebration of the law society in the constitution of 11 December 2014, tragedy struck.

Marc, 51 years old, father of three children, suddenly became ill with meningitis. He was placed in an induced coma for several days.

“One of the first things that his wife Anita has told us that when he was out of the coma, he was constantly talking about this machine,” Ms. van Vinken said.

But Marc had never lived to see the robot working in his field. He suffered a brain haemorrhage after having left the intensive care unit and death in a period of 10 minutes.


In a state of shock, and without any idea on the agriculture of the company, Teresa and Ad thought of giving up.

“Especially at the beginning, there were a lot of moments, I thought: well forget it, in any way,” Ms. van Vinken said.

But with hundreds of thousands of euros in subsidies already passed, they knew they had to push forward.

Today, they have sold their first commercial computer to a farm operator in France. The three-row version can replace the 70-to 80-gatherers.

“This is the first selective harvesting machine on the market”, explains Ad Vermeer.

“I’m sure it will be the first of a new genre, and there will be a lot of different selective harvesting machines in the future.”

To “see” the asparagus, the robot injects an electrical signal into the ground. The sensors of digging in the ground and pick up the signal the closer that they get to the asparagus.

“Asparagus is actually conducting the electrical signal because it has water in it,” he said.

“Basically, the difference between the water content of the asparagus and the sand, which makes the difference to how to detect the asparagus.”

Cerescon of the robot is one of the many machines in the course of development in the world to replace sensitive agricultural employment.

“Over the years, we have seen many tasks become possible to be taken care of by robots,” explains Rick van de Zedde of the University of Wageningen in the netherlands, where the teams are to self-service solutions for the job at the top and bottom of the fruit and vegetables supply chain.

“If you look at the way in which agro-food production is in development, there is a shortage of labour, but also a lack of motivated or qualified people,” says Mr. van de Zedde.

The problem is that many jobs are “repetitive and pretty dull,” he says, but still require skilled manipulation when you are dealing with fragile plants and flowers.

But even here, the robots learn to take a hint of sweetness.

The factory floor at Florensis, one of the netherlands ‘ largest flower suppliers, humming with the sound of robots hard at work.

Stick the cuttings in tiny soil pots should be done very gently, and, traditionally, it is the man of work.

In fact, there is a line of tables manned by humans, but there are also six stand-alone machines on the other side of the warehouse.

These machines from the factory up to 2,600 cuttings at a time. A skilled human can only manage 1 400 to 2 000. And the machine does not get tired, rarely breaks down, the plants and cuttings at the same depth each time.

“Due to the fact there is a lack of manpower, it forces us to seek alternatives to the development application,” said Marck Strik, director of product development at Florensis.

The robot runs to the end of the cutting is a sheet and which is a rod with the help of the image recognition cameras, and will even shake the belt to get a better look.More Technology of Business

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“Everyone has been looking for this breakthrough in the industry, and we believe that this is one of those discoveries that really has an exponential potential”, explains Mr. Strik.

“At the end of the game, you can work 24 hours a day and save, say, 60% of your labour costs,” he says.

“I believe – and I am convinced that this is just the beginning and absolutely it will be to replace the human being.”
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