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The future of robots in the agriculture sector

Written by

Neil Martin

Neil Martin

Robots will play an increasingly important role in agriculture over the coming decades. 

Just to take one case, the potential for automated pickers is huge and the focus of much research. University of Plymouth robotics lecturer Dr Martin Stoelen, with help from Professor of Plant Physiology Mick Fuller, is running the Automated Brassica Harvest in Cornwall Project. It’s developing technology to help with the cauliflower harvest and as Stoelen puts it: “A lot of producers are worried about where they will get their reasonably priced labour from. Manual harvesting also represents a large portion of their total costs, often it can be up to 50%, so looking at addressing that, especially against a backdrop of Brexit, is very important.”

The aim is to create small, mobile machines that could perform a pickers task and they are designing, building and testing a rig under field conditions. It intends to build on the successes of Stoelen’s GummiArm robot. This has two arms and replicates the movement of a human picker. The idea is centred on the concept of variable stiffness; robotic arms, complete with joints, that can be made stiff, or soft, depending on the job being undertaken.

Although this is one example, the same scenario is likely to be played out across the whole sector.