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Making harvests more efficient through automation

We are working to develop an autonomous robotic system to pick soft fruit

The need

Harvesting soft fruit is labour intensive and expensive which relies on careful judgement of the ripeness or readiness of the fruit for harvest. There is concern over manpower shortages and rising labour costs, both of which may impact the provision of soft fruit we take for granted in our supermarkets.   

The impact

AUTOPIC is a multi-disciplinary project aimed at mechanising the harvesting of soft fruit through the use of autonomous vehicles and robotics. The aim is to be able to replace falling numbers of workers with an autonomous system that ensures perfect, grade one soft fruits like strawberries are delivered from plant to plate without being touched by human hands.

To achieve this, we are working with partners including Harper Adams University, the Shadow Robot Company and BerryWorld. Over two years the project partners will design and test a picking head on a robotic arm with imaging and other sensors to identify ripe strawberries, grab and sever the stalk, grade the berry and place in a punnet. The system will be mounted and transported on an autonomous vehicle.

Not only could AUTOPIC help to address a shortage of manpower, it could also help make harvests more efficient. Annual waste from picking unripe crops can be high and can mean many thousands of pounds of lost revenue for farms every year. As a result, the agriculture industry is constantly on the lookout for more efficient ways of harvesting crops.

 

There are likely to be many benefits from the use of the AUTOPIC autonomous vehicle, and its robotics and we believe that the new technology will be transformative for a new UK industry. For example, the issue of falling migrant labour is not confined to the UK, so that if the project is successful there will be a significant export market for the project outputs.

 

Find out more about the Autopic project