Lettuce-picking ROBOT could soon help farmers trying to harvest their crops

Mail Online | 7/8/2019 | Victoria Bell For Mailonline
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Engineers have developed a vegetable-picking robot to complete the challenging task of harvesting lettuces which could help plug agriculture labour gaps.

The Vegebot uses a computer vision system to photograph a section of a field and then analyses it to identify which lettuce are ripe for picking.

Robots - Vegebot - University - Cambridge - Problems

Robots like the Vegebot, built by the University of Cambridge, could help ease the problems caused by a lack of migrant workers from Europe as willing workers dwindle.

Although the prototype is nowhere near as fast as a human worker at picking iceberg lettuces, it shows how robotics in agriculture could be expanded in future.

Workers - Year - Fruit - Vegetables - Fields

Around 75,000 temporary migrant workers are relied upon every year to pick fruit and vegetables in British fields.

Most currently come from Eastern Europe, but with the end of free movement, British growers may have to look into other methods for labour.

Britain - Today - Workers - Fruit - Vegetables

Britain today is completely dependent on foreign workers to pick its fruit and vegetables.

According to the National Farmers Union, an industry lobbying group, of the seasonal workers in the fields last year picking fruit and vegetables, barely one per cent was British.

Shortages - Shifts - Strawberry - Fields

Already, labour shortages driven by economic shifts have left produce rotting in the strawberry fields.

Many engineers have been testing their own prototypes in anticipation for this shortage, including one robot which picks healthy strawberries, enough to supply tennis-lovers at Wimbledon for one week.

Prototype - University - Plymouth - Plucks - Raspberries

Another prototype by the University of Plymouth plucks raspberries from a plant and carefully places it in a punnet.

So far, crops such as potatoes have been harvested mechanically at scale for decades, but iceberg lettuce has resisted automation.

Researchers - Vegebot - Laboratory - Lettuce - Fields

Researchers initially tested Vegebot in a laboratory but have now successfully tested it in several lettuce fields in Cambridgeshire.

'Every field is different, every lettuce is different,' said co-author Simon Birrell, from Cambridge's Department of...
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