Homer Simpson once sang “You don’t win friends with salad,” but he might change his tune if he knew those greens were harvested by a robot.
Well, probably not. But we at The Spoon definitely think its cool that researchers at the University of Cambridge in England have developed a robot that can automatically identify and harvest heads of iceberg lettuce. Dubbed “Vegebot,” the research team announced over the weekend that its robot had successfully completed tests in a variety of field conditions on an actual farm.
Because it grows flat to the ground and is easily damaged, iceberg lettuce can be a challenging crop to harvest. The Vegebot uses an on-board camera and computer vision to identify the lettuce, whether it is mature enough to be harvested, and if it is healthy (diseased lettuce could spread to other lettuce in the harvest). Once identified, a second camera near the cutting blade makes sure the cut is smooth before a robot gripper picks it up.
This high-tech harvesting is cool, but as of now, it is also very slow. You can see just how slow in this video:
However, like with most things robotic, the speed will come. Right now, the robot has proven that its computer vision, cutting and gripping technology can work outside of the lab and under a variety of conditions. Additionally, the robot’s name is “Vegebot” not “Lettucebot” (there already was one of those), and Cambridge researchers say that the underlying technology could be used for a variety of crops.
Automation and robots are on the verge of becoming more mainstream in agriculture as technology like Vegebot’s, Augean Robotics and Agerris improve, and human labor shortages become more of an issue. Working on a farm requires intense physical labor, often in 100-plus degree weather. Having robots on hand can mean continued production without risking human life and health.
Even Homer Simpson can see that’s a winning idea.