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A 1.8-meter tall robot that can harvest raspberries has been tested in the United Kingdom.
The robot was developed by Plymouth / ˈplɪm əθ / University’s technology company Fieldwork Robotics in collaboration with Hall Hunter Partnership, a berry grower. It was first tested in a greenhouse at Hall Hunter’s farm in England.
During the initial testing, the robot was programmed to pluck raspberries, which are difficult to harvest because they are soft and delicate. Using cameras, sensors, and artificial intelligence, the robot identified which raspberries were ripe enough for harvesting. It then plucked the fruits from the plants and put them in a basket. It took the robot one minute to pick each raspberry.
Dr. Martin Stoelen, the founding director of Fieldwork Robotics, invented the robot. He hopes to use the results of the initial test to refine the robot and enable it to harvest other fruits and vegetables.
The robot is expected to be commercially available next year. Currently, it has one arm, but it will eventually have four. These would allow the robot to pluck 25,000 raspberries in 20 hours. In comparison, human workers can harvest only 15,000 raspberries in eight hours. However, unlike humans, the robot cannot operate properly in certain light conditions during the day.
Despite its shortcoming, the robot could help growers with labor shortage and increasing costs of hiring farm workers. Dr. Stoelen said that about 40% to 60% of raspberry growers’ expenses go to manual laborers’ wages. Hence, he believes that robots could be a cheaper alternative because he plans to rent them out to farmers at an affordable price.