AI robot monitors the health of tulips in fields

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. root out (something) / rut aʊt / (phrasal v.) – to identify the cause of a problem and remove it

    The government is determined to root out corruption in the system.

  2. diseased / dɪˈzizd / (adj.) – suffering from a disease or illness

    It is not safe to eat meat from any diseased animal.

  3. trundle / ˈtrʌn dl / (v.) – to move on wheels slowly

    The electric wheelchair trundles along the hospital corridor.

  4. stunt / stʌnt / (v.) – to prevent someone or something from growing or developing

    Eating unhealthy foods stunts physical and mental development among young children.

  5. hefty / ˈhɛf ti / (adj.) – very large in amount, size, etc.

    In some cities, drivers would have to pay a hefty fine if they violate traffic rules.


Read the text below.

An artificial intelligence robot called Theo is a new high-tech weapon in the battle to root out disease from Dutch tulip fields. The robot, which checks each plant and kills diseased plants, is replacing a dwindling number of human “sickness spotters” who patrol bulb fields on the lookout for diseased flowers.

On a spring morning, the robot trundles along rows of yellow and red “goudstuk” tulips, checking each plant and, when necessary, killing diseased bulbs to prevent the spread of the tulip-breaking virus.

The dead bulbs are removed from healthy ones in a sorting warehouse after they have been harvested. The virus stunts the growth and development of plants leading to smaller and weaker flowers. It also weakens the bulb itself, eventually leaving it unable to flower.

“In every tulip field, there’s a certain percentage of sick tulips. And every year, they need to be taken out in order to prevent the sick tulips from infecting other healthy tulips. And, we used to do it always by hand and we could never do everything in one year because it was too much. And now, we have the robot here with us. And, the robot is really amazing. It can work through the day, through the night, through the weekends. It never takes a break. And it does it also better than humans,” says Allan Visser, a third-generation tulip farmer who is using the robot for the second growing season.

The robot rolls on caterpillar tracks through fields at one kilometer per hour (0.6 mph) hunting out the telltale red stripes that form on the leaves of infected flowers.

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 pinpoint the flowers that need to be destroyed.

However, Theo’s skills and efficiency come with a hefty price tag. The robot costs 185,000 euros ($200,000).

As part of efforts to tackle tulip-breaking virus, there are 45 robots patrolling tulip fields across the Netherlands as the weather warms up and farmers approach peak season. 

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Theo is a new high-tech weapon that’s used to root out disease from Dutch tulip fields. Do you think your country needs a similar robot? Why or why not? What other agricultural machines do you think would be helpful to farmers in your country (ex. drones, AI fruit-picking robots)? Discuss.
  • Do you think it would be easy for agricultural workers in your country to embrace the use of AI technology? Why or why not? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Do you think the benefits of Theo’s skills and efficiency justify its hefty cost? Why or why not? Would you support your government if ever it decides to invest in such a technology? Discuss.
  • Allan Visser said that the robot does better than humans. Do you agree that robots can perform a job better than humans ? Why or why not? Discuss.