Tag Archives: robotics

Waitrose to trial small farm robots

The John Lewis Partnership has announced a three-year trial with the start-up agri-tech business Small Robot Company, which will see the use of ‘autonomous farmbots’ Waitrose & Partners’ Leckford Estate in Hampshire.

During the trial, the Small Robot Company’s three small robots; Tom, Dick and Harry, will l test their state-of-the-art learning and farming technology on a one-hectare field of wheat. Initially a prototype Tom robot, which is fitted with cameras and weighs just ten kilograms, will gather topographical data, eventually creating a plant-by-plant view of the field. The Small Robot Company can then further develop its machine learning systems, while building also new prototype robots.

The data gathered by the Tom robot will be used to develop an AI system called Wilma, which will eventually guide the three robots, allowing them to farm autonomously. As well as increasing precision, efficiency and productivity, the small robots are expected to deliver considerable environmental benefits, such as reduction in compaction and soil damage.

Andrew Hoad, Partner & Head of the Leckford Estate, commented, “The Waitrose & Partners farm has a long history in producing a wide variety of high quality crops. We work hard to farm in harmony with the environment and our vision for sustainable farming is aligned to what the Small Robot Company is trying to achieve.”

Sam Watson Jones, co-founder of Small Robot Company and a fourth generation Shropshire farmer, added, “Together, we will be working to re-imagine food production. We’re on the cusp of a fourth agricultural revolution, taking farming into the digital age, with British ideas and British technology at the helm.”

Photo caption: Artist’s impression of the Tom robot in action

Photo Credit: Small Robot Company

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Trials underway for robotic raspberry picking

A robotics development company which started life as a spin-out of the University of Plymouth is to trial a revolutionary raspberry picking robot with the Hall Hunter Partnership.

Fieldwork Robotics is now part-owned by AIM-listed Frontier IP group PLC, which saw its shares rise 5.7 per cent on the news that they would be working with Hall Hunter Partnership which grows 14,000 tonnes of soft fruit, including raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries for customers including Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Tesco.

“Hall Hunter are the UK’s largest grower of raspberries…so they’re clearly a large player in the sector,” said Neil Crabb, chief executive of Frontier IP. He pointed out that raspberries are one of the most fragile types of soft fruit, so successful field tests would lead the way to using the robot in other fruit and vegetable crops including blueberries and strawberries.

The technology was developed by Dr Martin Stoelen of the University of Plymouth, who is now working on a tomato harvesting project in China. He said, “The collaboration agreement we’ve signed with Hall Hunter is a big step forward for Fieldwork and the team at the University of Plymouth. I’m looking forward to seeing our robots operating in the field.” The University has also received funding from Agri-tech Cornwall to develop robotics technologies for use in cauliflowers and other vegetables.

Hall Hunter Partnership chief operating officer David Green said: “HHP has always led the soft fruit industry in pushing forward productivity and quality standards on our Farms and Nurseries. This partnership with Fieldwork Robotics is an exciting new development to pioneer the harvesting of raspberries robotically at a commercial scale. We are looking forward to our first human-free hectare to be picked together.”

Photo Credit: Max Pixel

The post Trials underway for robotic raspberry picking appeared first on Hort News on 9 August 2018.

Algorithms for accurate tomato crop estimates

According to Dutch firm HortiKey, continues increases in the area of tomato production globally mean that growers need to adopt new digital technologies in order to be able to manager ever larger production facilities.

Their aim is to improve the gathering of reliable plant data from greenhouses, so that analytical analysis becomes more robust and useful in commercial situations. The firm employed Wageningen UR to develop a series of algorithms to classify tomatoes automatically.

The assessment is done when the fruit is still hanging on the vine in the greenhouse and is independent from the available lighting conditions, something which the company says human beings cannot.

With these algorithms new data is generated from the greenhouse in a way never shown before, together with algorithms for automatic counting,” explains Abdreas Hofland, General Manager at HortiKey. “It is the basis for the Plantalyzer: an autonomous driving platform from Berg Hortimotive with sensors and software to analyze the tomatoes. Prognosis software from Letsgrow.com analyzes the gathered data to calculate an accurate crop estimate.

“The Plantalyzer is a good example of how algorithms can help growers to improve their performance. The gain is higher customer satisfaction, more control over the price-making process, more stability in planning and thus, a contribution to company continuity.”

Photo Credit: HortiKey

The post Algorithms for accurate tomato crop estimates appeared first on Hort News on 23 July 2018.

Berry Gardens begins two year robotics trial

Berry Gardens is working with the University of Lincoln and Norway’s Saga Robotics to trial the use of the Thorvald agricultural robot in soft fruit fields and see if it can increase harvest efficiency.

The ‘trailblazing’ project, known as RAS-Berry, has attracted funding from Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The main use of the robots in the trail is to transport boxes of harvested fruit from the picking- to the collection-point, relieving workers to concentrate on the more difficult task of picking and improving overall harvest efficiency.

Ursula Lidbetter MBE, Chair of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership, commented, “Greater Lincolnshire is a major food-producing area, and the agri-food industry is one of our six priority sectors. It’s fantastic to see a Lincolnshire-based project leading the way in AI. This will really put Lincolnshire on the map for developing technologies that can help and support the county’s food producers to grow and innovate.”

Photo Credit: Saga Robotics

The post Berry Gardens begins two year robotics trial appeared first on Hort News on 23 July 2018.

New tomato harvesting robot tested

Israeli start-up MetoMotion hopes that its new Greenhouse Robotic Worker (GRoW), which is described as ‘a multipurpose robotic intensive system for labor-intensive tasks in greenhouses’ will impress industrial users with the ability to harvest tomatoes.

The company currently has a patent pending for its 3D Vision System is to detect ripe fruit and calculates their location. The system designed to locate a stem without the need for exact data and to cut and catch fruits in a single operation. The company says the unit will also clear away obstacles and will not damage plant or fruit.

“With GRoW, we’ve tried to solve a complex problem in a smart, simple and effective manner,” says MetoMotion CEO Adi Nir. “The system is designed for a simple operation and a smooth integration into an existing greenhouse infrastructure and practice. We want to reduce the limitations and the high costs associated with human labour in greenhouse vegetable production.” However, the machine is still some way from commercialisation, with the developers seeking to raise $1.5 million in funding, together with another $1 million from government grants.

MetoMotion is not the only company working to robotically harvest greenhouse crops. In July, Wageningen University & Research (WUR) will be demonstrating the SWEEPER pepper harvesting robot in the commercial greenhouse of ‘De Tuindershoek’ in Ijsselmuiden, the Netherlands. According to WUR, the SWEEPER robot is the first sweet pepper harvesting robot in the world to be demonstrated in a commercial greenhouse.

Photo Caption: Render of the GRoW robot

Photo Credit: MetoMotion

The post New tomato harvesting robot tested appeared first on Hort News on 21 June 2018.

Scout robot could revolutionise greenhouse crop protection

A new robot crop scout developed by Metazet has been nominated for a Greentech Concept Award which takes place as part of Greentech 2018 in Amsterdam in June.

According to the manufacturers, the IRIS! scout robot detects diseases, pests, deficiencies and other plant abnormalities at an early stage and also provides accurate fruit count and yield forecasting as well as detailed climate and environmental information. They claim that the system’s artificial intelligence brain and its ability to perform active learning make it unique.

The IRIS! robot can better predict crop stress development and provide unique intelligence that can make crop protection efforts more efficient. It consists of the patented SABER™ sensor mounted on a self-propelled trolley that operates autonomously in greenhouses with a tube-rail system. Collected data is securely stored in the cloud, and the robot brain is said to be protected against hacking due to a novel, patented cloud-based information protection protocol and state of the art security standards.

The Scout robot was jointly developed by Metazet-Formflex, Ecoation and Micothon.

Photo Caption: Established greenhouse technology company Ecoation is one of the companies behind the IRIS! robot

Photo Credit: Ecoation

The post Scout robot could revolutionise greenhouse crop protection appeared first on Hort News on 10 May 2018.

Panasonic unveils tomato picking robot

Last month at Tokyo’s International Robot Exhibition, electronics giant Panasonic showcased an agricultural robot which the company claim can perform complex repetitive tasks, such as harvesting tomatoes.

The new harvesting robot, which the company stresses is still very much under development, was one of a number of robotic devices Panasonic showcased at the event. The machine runs on a rail and identifies the ripe fruit before picking them gently using a ‘special end effector’ which cuts can catches the fruit to prevent damage.

‘With newly developed sensors and image processing technology, Panasonic is developing harvest robots that can accurately assess colour, shape, and location,” the company said in a statement. ‘This robot can even pick fruits such as tomatoes that were thought difficult to harvest with machinery without leaving a single scratch. And by connecting to the network, it can automatically move around the ridges and transport the tomatoes to baskets or even change baskets, so it can autonomously undertake every step of the harvesting process.’

The machine has a claimed work rate of 10 fruits per minute, but unlike human pickers, it can operate without breaks for up to 24 hours a day.

Photo Caption: Panasonic has been working on its tomato picking robot for several years.

Photo Credit: YouTube

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Californian lettuce growers embracing robotic harvesting

One of America’s largest salad producers, California-based Taylor Farms, is increasingly using robotics to tackle the twin challenges of labour availability and increasing costs.

The company, which employs a total of 10,000 people, is using robotic harvesting rigs on some crops of Romaine and baby leaf lettuce and it says that the use of robotics is growing in the entire Californian lettuce industry. Around 95 per cent of the company’s Romaine volume is currently harvested with automated harvesters, and trials are being conducted on a number of other crops.

“Harvesting, one of the more difficult in-field jobs to perform, was a natural area of focus for us,” explains Ted Taylor, Head of New Ventures & Business Development. “Over the last eight years we have designed and built advanced machinery to optimize harvest efficiency and drive improved ergonomics for employees. This has truly been a win-win. We have been able to offer better jobs to our field employees, all while driving bottom line performance. We will continue to aggressively pursue automated harvesting functions for all our core products.”

Photo Credit: Taylor Farms

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Could robots be the answer to UK labour issues?

A recent report suggests that robots could help UK growers deal with potential labour shortages in the future, but in practice their widespread use may still be some way off.

Published by the Resolution Foundation, a new report suggests that some sectors of the fresh produce industry might consider the use of robots and greater automation, while others will require a carefully considered immigration policy to prevent damaging staff shortages.

Adam Corlett, Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation said: “People have long warned about the rise of the job stealing robots, but they haven’t had much effect to date in a country that has record employment and a terrible record on productivity. “For sectors like agriculture, further automation could provide part of the answer to coping with the changed labour market, although it will require a major shift in investment to become a reality.”

The report came as US company Harvest CROO revealed more details of its automated strawberry picker which is in development. “Our biggest differentiator has always been that growers will not have to change the way they currently grow strawberries,” said Gary Wishnatzki, co-founder of Harvest CROO and owner of Wish Farms based in Plant City, FL. “Now, with the patent of the Pitzer Wheel, what I believe to be the heart of the invention, we have another strong distinguishing factor.”

The post Could robots be the answer to UK labour issues? appeared first on Hort News on 15 July 2016.

Deleafing robot to begin trials

Priva has unveiled its new deleafing robot for tomatoes at GreenTech 2016, while at the same time three growers involved in the machine’s development will be able to begin trials.

Officially known as the Priva Kompano Deleaf-Line, it is expected that the machine, which was presented to the GreenTech ‘jury’ on 14 June will be available commercially to growers who register their interest and pre-order it (at fd8.formdesk.com/priva/kompano) from next summer.

According to the company the new machine is the first in a series of solutions for automating labour intensive procedures in commercial horticulture. A spokesperson for Priva said, “The Priva Kompano Deleaf-Line is the first product, worldwide, that provides growers with an economically viable alternative for manual deleafing tomato crops. Labour expenses are a particularly large part of operational costs, but can be unpredictable and for a large number of tasks, finding a motivated workforce to carry out the work is getting much harder.”

Photo Credit: Priva

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