Attention to ‘discerning robotic vision’ is key when designing a picking or harvesting robot. Improvements in machine-vision algorithms and the use of multi-spectral cameras are helping the latest robots to find their targets in a crop much faster.
Early bots designed at the Dutch horticultural research facility at Wageningen University chose to start with yellow peppers, what one could call the ‘low hanging fruit’. Teaching a camera on a robot to find yellow or red peppers in a leafy green crop is relatively simple compared to the task that Farshid Amirabdollahian, professor of human-robot interaction at the University of Hertfordshire, set himself.
Driven by a shortage of skilled workers and increasing wages worldwide, robotics researchers and horticultural growers are partnering to develop robots that enhance the productivity of the human workforce.
From the headlines, you might think that robots are on the point of replacing hard-working human fruit, veg and flower pickers, thus solving the difficulties that farmers have in recruiting a workforce to bring in the harvest. The reality is somewhat different. Robots that can mass-harvest horticultural crops may be at least five years away – but prototypes are already working in fields, glasshouses and poly tunnels to plant cuttings, control disease, pick berries and assist in the breeding process.
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