Vegebot has been named the new specialized reaper robot to collect lettuce. Developed by a team of engineers from the University of Cambridge, Vegebot, like so many other robots created to make the harvest more efficient, has also been trained to recognize the level of maturation of the leaves.
The robot, which has already been successfully tested on the outdoor fields of a British fruit and vegetable cooperative, is currently not as efficient as a human worker but demonstrates, for the umpteenth time, how the use of robotics is spreading all the time more in the agriculture sector, also to collect fruits or vegetables that require a considerable manual skill.
Different vegetables have been cultivated mechanically or in any case automatically for decades but there are types that “resist” automation as they are very difficult to collect or for which it is very difficult to identify the right level of maturation. Just the iceberg type lettuce is one of these. Among other things, this type of lettuce is relatively flat and more difficult to collect than others.
At the moment, as reported by Julia Cai, one of the authors of the study behind the project that allowed the construction of this robot, “at the moment, the collection is the only part of the life cycle of the lettuce which is done manually and is very demanding from a physical point of view.”
Vegebot intends to make up for the use of human beings to collect lettuce: it determines if the leaves are healthy and ready to be harvested, cuts the lettuce from the plant without damaging it and puts it in a special container. This is something difficult for a robot to implement even if for a human being it may seem simple enough, as reported by one of the authors of the study, Josie Hughes.
To understand the level of maturation of the leaves, the robot uses an artificial vision system based on automatic learning (it should improve more and more with experience). It also uses a sophisticated cutting system with a camera for a regular cut.