iceberg lettuce

Cutting an iceberg is said to be the most technically difficult step to automate

UK salad suppliers G’s Fresh and PDM Produce are working with agri-tech experts to help develop lettuce-picking robots, reports Agritech Tomorrow.

In a project funded by Innovate UK, the growers are collaborating with the Agri-EPI Centre (Edinburgh), Harper Adams University (Newport), the Centre for Machine Vision at the University of the West of England (Bristol) and vision-tech experts IDS Imaging Development Systems (Germany) to develop an intelligent, automated lettuce-harvesting system, the article said.

According to the report, existing leek harvesting machinery is being adapted to lift the lettuce from the ground and grip it in between pinch belts. The lettuce’s outer, or ‘wrapper’, leaves will be mechanically removed to expose the stem, then machine-vision and artificial intelligence are being used to identify a precise cut point on the stem to neatly separate the head of lettuce.

'The cutting process of an iceberg is the most technically complicated step in the process to automate, according to teammates from G's subsidiary Salad Harvesting Services Ltd,' IDS Product Sales Specialist Rob Webb said in the report.

'The prototype harvesting robot being built incorporates a GigE Vision camera from the uEye FA family. It is considered to be particularly robust and is therefore ideally suited to demanding environments.”

The prototype of the robotic picker will be used in field trials, the report said.

'We are delighted to be involved in the project and look forward to seeing the results. We are convinced of its potential to automate and increase the efficiency of the lettuce harvest, not only in terms of compensating for the lack of seasonal workers,” said Jan Hartmann, managing director of IDS Imaging Development Systems.