Robots Tiptoe through the Tulips

Here’s the song, in case you don’t get the reference. But if the robots aren’t exactly tiptoeing through the tulips, they are traveling through them in some other way, identifying those that are affected by disease.

Tulips are subject to viruses. That is in fact how the lovely Rembrandt tulips get their amazing colors. The virus causes breaking of colors, bleaching of pigments, and thus the amazing patterns found in these stunning tulips.

During the 17th century, “broken” tulips became highly sought-after commodities, fetching exorbitant prices. Single bulbs could be worth more than a house! This period, known as Tulip mania, was ultimately a speculative bubble that burst, but it left a lasting legacy and continues to fascinate historians and economists. The patterned tulips continue to fascinate gardeners, too. Unfortunately, the viruses that create the painterly designs also cause the plants to be less healthy, with lower yields and smaller flowers.

What’s more, some tulip viruses don’t create the lovely patterns that led to Tulip mania centuries ago. Some viruses just make bleached spots on the flowers’ leaves.

A new robot can identify unhealthy, infected blooms among the healthy ones. Then it releases a drop of treatment fluid onto the infected flower, leaving the healthy tulips alone.

We say “treatment” but actually the infected bulbs are killed so that they will not infect other bulbs around them.

Toward the future

The makers, Smith Construction, have several dozen machine working in the Netherlands and New Zealand. These machines can work about three acres a day, which is must faster than human beings can do the job by hand.

So far, they work inly with tulips, but the company hopes to add more crops in the future. The machines are diesel-powered, but hydrogen is also being considered as a fuel source in the future.

With the continuing problem of labor shortages in the agriculture industry, having robots capable of working 24 hours a day will be very beneficial for flower growers.

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