• A high-tech robot designed to combat disease in tulip fields is using artificial intelligence to identify and treat sick flowers in the Netherlands.
  • Equipped with cameras and AI algorithms, the robot examines tulips and takes thousands of images to determine whether they are infected.
  • This technology allows the robot to make informed decisions about which flowers to destroy to prevent the spread of viruses.

Theo works weekdays, weekends and nights and never complains of a sore spine, even though he spends hours doing laborious work for a normal farm worker, checking the tulip fields in the Netherlands for diseased flowers.

The boxy robot – named after a retired employee of the WAM Pennings farm near the Dutch North Sea coast – is a new high-tech weapon in the fight against disease in the bulb fields that are erupting in a springtime frenzy of color.

On a windy spring morning Tuesday, the robot rolled along rows of yellow and red “Goudstuk” tulips, checking each plant and killing diseased bulbs as necessary to prevent the spread of the tulip-damaging virus. After harvesting, the dead onions are separated from the healthy onions in a sorting warehouse.


The virus inhibits the growth and development of plants, resulting in smaller and weaker flowers. This also weakens the bulb itself, eventually preventing it from blooming.

Tulip robot

A robot with artificial intelligence is a new high-tech weapon in the fight against disease in the Dutch tulip fields, which are erupting in a riot of color in spring. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

As part of efforts to combat the virus, 45 robots are patrolling tulip fields in the Netherlands as the weather warms and farmers approach peak season, when their bulbs bloom into vast carpets of color that attract tourists from around the world.

Previously, this work was done by human “disease observers,” said Allan Visser, a third-generation tulip farmer who uses the robot in the second growing season.

“You could also buy a very nice sports car,” Visser said Tuesday of the robot’s price – according to the manufacturer, the robot costs 185,000 euros ($200,000).

“But I prefer the robot because a sports car won’t remove the sick tulips from our field. Yes, it is expensive, but there are fewer and fewer people who can actually see the sick tulips,” he added.

Much slower than a sports car, it rolls through fields on tracks at 0.6 miles per hour, searching for the tell-tale red streaks that form on the leaves of infected flowers.


“It has cameras on the front and takes thousands of pictures of the tulips. Then it will use its AI model to determine whether the tulip is sick or not,” Visser explained, calling it “precision farming.”

“The robot has learned to recognize and treat this,” he added.

Erik de Jong of H2L Robotics, the company that makes the robots, says artificial intelligence helps them identify sick flowers, and very precise GPS coordinates allow them to locate the flowers that need to be destroyed.

“The heart of the machine is the knowledge that we incorporate into the AI ​​model. The knowledge comes from the tulip farmers. So we use the knowledge of tulip farmers and combine it in an AI model,” he said.

Theo van der Voort, who gave his name to the robot at WAM Pennings Farm and retired after 52 years searching for sick flowers, is impressed.

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

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