The US ornamental horticultural industry is a growing industry that ships over $12B of plants to retailers and landscapers across the U.S.. Each year over 500 million containerized plants are in production. These containers are handled 3-4 times per year by a dwindling migrant worker labor force. The principle objective of this project is to automate the processes of moving containerized plants to and from the field (including the tasks of picking up and setting down the containers). This will reduce the need for manual labor, improve productivity and reduce handling costs during the life cycle of the container-plants for the nursery industry.
The challenge of this program lies in the ability to develop a generic solution for a variety of container-handling operations while being cost effective, easily operable, maintainable with minimal technical skills, and easily adjustable to be able to handle a variety of container sizes and arrangements. The system will be field tested in Q3, 2000. It is NREC's goal to have manufacturers initiate product sales within one year from the conclusion of the NREC development contract.
Project sponsors include the Horticultural Research Institute, USDA/ARS, and NASA.