Intelligent Harvesting Robot to Take Over UK Farms

lettuce harvester image
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We know, we know. You want to see jaw-droppingly cool renderings of concept robots tearing through crop rows. That'd be great, but we don't have any...yet. For now, this guy - a real live human - is the intelligent harvester. Photo via treesftf via Flickr CC

Well, not quite yet, but someday soon. UK scientists at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in Teddington are working on imaging technology that will be used in a new intelligent harvesting robot. The hope is that the robot will eliminate the wasted produce, created during harvesting saving an average farm as much as £100,000 (just over $166,000) annually in lost revenue. And it'll also help to solve an impending labor shortage in UK farms. How? The robot will be able to harvest just the right produce at just the right time, thanks to radio frequencies, microwaves, terahertz and/or the far-infra red.A press release on Eurekalert states:

NPL 's scientists are working with KMS projects and Vegetable Harvesting Systems (VHS) to turn the technology into an intelligent harvesting machine, which can look beneath the leafy layers of a crop, identify the differing materials, and enable precise size identification. This can be used to develop a fully automated harvesting robot, which would be able to fill the gap left by the labour shortage.
The most appropriate technologies to use are radio frequencies, microwaves, terahertz and the far-infra red. These four parts of the electromagnetic spectrum all have potential to safely penetrate the crop layers and identify the size of the harvestable material for a relatively low cost. NPL has developed a methodology for crop identification and selection focusing on cauliflower crops, one of the hardest crops to measure due to the large amount of leafage that covers the vegetable.

Recent demonstrations of the imaging software have been successful. So next up is the robot! And at least one company is interested in supporting its development - G's, one of the largest lettuces grower in the UK. We just might see a completed robot as soon as next year. Or at least...that's what they say.

It'd be interesting to see a robot that could shrink down the 60% of waste currently seen on farms, and assist when there are labor shortages. But it might also be equally as interesting - and even greener - to see a revamp of farming practices that do this same thing through process and the use of real people. Ahhh...what a hearty debate this could open up!