Leading salad supplier G’s is working with Cambridge University to explore automation in lettuce harvesting as labour pressures continue to grow.
Speaking in a session on robotics at the British Tomato Conference, robotics expert Dr Fumiya Iida of Cambridge University said agriculture is one of the next steps for robotics, as technology develops from repetitive industrial jobs, to becoming more adaptable and with better capacity in gripping and vision.
“Harvesting is almost the only non-automated process at G’,” said Iida. “Even without Brexit the cost pressure of labour was very demanding, as a business they could see that model wouldn’t work. So they came to us for state-of-the-art robotics technology.
“What we are working on in the lab is looking at different ways for robots to ‘pick and place’, such as a suction cup or robotic fingers. We are looking at this picking challenge and how it can be applied to the lettuce harvesting,” he said.
While robots are strong, do not need rest and reduce the chance for error, Iida reminded delegates that they still cannot do simple human functions such as walking, opening doors, or getting into cars.
“There are two phases of robotics: Robotics 1.0 is the industrial environment, where there are already thousands of robots, and Robotics 2.0 is the real-world environment, where you have low predictability, and a need for creativity and adaption.”
The automation of logistics, as well as ‘soft’ robotics, are two of the latest trends in the sector, Iida said, adding that the cost of the technology continues to decrease as it becomes increasingly commercially available.