LONDON, ENGLAND — Researchers have developed and tested a machine-learning driven robot to identify and harvest iceberg lettuce, according to a study released on Monday by the University of Cambridge.
Iceberg lettuce is easily damaged and grows relatively flat to the ground, which presents a challenge for robotic harvesters.
The Vegebot, developed by a team at the university, has two main components: a computer vision system and a cutting system.
It can first identify the targeted crop within its field of vision, then determines whether a particular lettuce is healthy and ready to be harvested, and finally cuts the lettuce from the rest of the plant without crushing it.
To make the robot smarter in dealing with lettuces, the team developed and trained a machine learning algorithm on example images of lettuces. The robot has been successfully tested in a variety of field conditions in cooperation with G’s Growers, a local fruit and vegetable co-operative, the university said.
“Every field is different, every lettuce is different,”said Simon Birrell from the university. “But if we can make a robotic harvester work with iceberg lettuce, we could also make it work with many other crops.”
Researchers hope that robotic harvesters could, one day, help address problems with labour shortages in agriculture, and could also help reduce food waste.
The results of this research has been published in The Journal of Field Robotics.