Robot broccoli harvester could cut cost of eating your greens

1 min read

Three-dimensional camera technology from the University of Lincoln is helping in the development of a fully automated robotic system that can harvest broccoli.

The project, which is jointly funded by BBSRC and Innovate UK, will test whether 3D camera technology can be used to identify and select when broccoli is ready for harvesting. This will be a key step towards the development of a fully automatic robotic harvesting system for broccoli, which will significantly reduce production costs.

The University of Lincoln was one of more than 70 UK businesses and universities to share funding through the £70m Agri-Tech Catalyst, which aims to improve the development of agricultural technology in the UK.

Project leader Prof Tom Duckett, group co-ordinator of the Agri-food Technology Research Group at the University of Lincoln, said: “Broccoli is one of the world’s largest vegetable crops and is almost entirely manually harvested, which is costly.” This technology is seen as being an important move towards developing fully automatic robot harvesting systems, which could then be used for a variety of different crops.

“In all our agri-related research work, our mission is to develop new technological solutions for the business of producing food through agriculture. The long-term impact of our research includes safer food, less waste, more efficient food production, and better use of natural resources, as well as promoting human health and happiness.”

The research team includes Dr Grzegorz Cielnak from Lincoln’s School of Computer Science and Dr Simon Pearson from the university’s National Centre for food Manufacturing (NCFM) at Holbeach. The main industry partner is R. Fountain & Son Ltd, horticultural consultants based in Boston, Lincolnshire, who will be responsible for creating the broccoli-cutting device.

Ian Meikle, head of Agriculture and Food at Innovate UK said: “The Agri-tech Strategy aims to make the UK a world leader in agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability. The funding decisions are-expert led and evidence based. They support great ideas that address challenges of the future in food and farming. With business, scientific advancement and research, and the government working together, these investments can unlock potential and deliver major benefits for society and the economy, but also ensure future sustainability.”