AI Robot Helps Find Sick Tulips in Netherlands

03:35 March 22, 2024

AI Robot Helps Find Sick Tulips in Netherlands

Theo works days, nights, and weekends in the tulip fields in the Netherlands and never complains of sore muscles.

How is this possible?

Theo is an artificial intelligence, or AI, robot that looks for diseased flowers each spring.

The work prevents viruses from spreading among the valuable plants. The robot looks for troubled tulip bulbs and destroys them if necessary. They are removed from the healthy ones in a processing center after the harvest.

There are 45 robots like Theo working in the tulip fields of the Netherlands. Their job becomes important as the winter turns to spring and peak season nears. People come from around the world to see the colorful flowers.

Allan Visser’s family has been growing tulips for three generations. This is the second season that he has used a robot. He said it is very costly – the same as a sports car – about $200,000. In the past, knowledgeable farmers would walk the fields looking for tulips that showed signs of sickness.

“I prefer to have the robot because a sports car doesn’t take out the sick tulips from our field,” he said. “Yeah, it is expensive, but there are less and less people who can really see the sick tulips.”

The robot has been trained to see the sick plants. Red stripes show up on the leaves of infected plants. The robots roll through the fields very slowly – about one kilometer per hour – looking for sick tulips.

Visser called the work “precision agriculture” as he explained how the robots work. He said the robots have cameras and take thousands of photos of the tulips. The AI software considers the photos and decides which tulips need to be killed.

“The robot has learned to recognize this and treat it,” Visser said.

H2L Robotics is the company that makes the robots. Erik de Jong is the managing director. He said the robots use GPS coordinates to be sure they are killing the correct tulip among many tulips in the field.

He said all of the knowledge they use in the computer program that informs the robot comes from tulip farmers—farmers like Theo van der Voort. He is the farmer that the robot is named after.

Van der Voort retired after 52 years of looking for sick flowers in his fields.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “It sees just as much as I see.”

I’m Dan Friedell.

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