Scientists at the University of Plymouth are developing new robotic technology which they hope could assist fruit and vegetable growers with the challenges they face in harvesting crops.
The researchers are working with vegetable growers in Cornwall to create robots which can work alongside existing workforces. The Automated Brassica harvesting in Cornwall (ABC) project is being led by Dr Martin Stoelen, with agricultural from Professor of Plant Physiology Mick Fuller. It also involves partners Teagle Machinery, Riviera Produce and CNC Design.
At the heart of Dr Stoelen’s vision is the concept of ‘variable stiffness’: while most robot arms are rigid, the ability to flex and bend is vital in a more variable environment. Another of the challenges is how to enable the robot to identify the cauliflowers that are ready for harvest and to distinguish the precise part to be taken.
“Manual harvesting represents a large portion of producers’ total costs; often it can be up to 50 per cent, so looking at addressing that – especially against a backdrop of Brexit – is very important. We’d like to prove that robotic technology that can work in rural environments is not only possible, but affordable, viable and can help increase productivity on farms,” said Dr Stoelen. “Ultimately, machines such as this will make life easier and simpler as a farmer, but it’s also cool technology which might encourage more young people to choose a career in agriculture.”
Photo Caption: The prototype robotic arm.
Photo Credit: Fieldwork Robotics Ltd