Robots are on the march again into the last bastion of labour intensive industry - farming and horticulture. Research engineers and horticulture specialists at the University of Warwick are working together to devise a suite of robots and automated systems which could transform farming and horticulture over the next decade.
The researchers from the University of Warwick's horticultural arm, Warwick HRI, and its manufacturing engineering section, Warwick Manufacturing Group, are working on a number of robotics and automation products that will vastly reduce the labour costs of farmers and growers. Those projects include:
- A robotic mushroom picker: the robot uses a charged coupled camera to spot and select only mushrooms of the exact size required for picking achieving levels of accuracy far in excess of human labour. The mushroom(s) are then picked by a suction cup on the end of a robotic arm. Whilst the speed of picking is currently just over half that of a human - the mushrooms and the robot can be set to pick 24 hours a day right through the night without the need for any sort of break. The researchers also hope to increase the speed of picking to much closer to that of a human worker.
- Inflatable Conveyor Belt: The Warwick Manufacturing Group and Warwick HRI researchers have helped an agricultural machinery company "Aeropick" to develop a revolutionary group of inflatable aids to harvesting which provide huge savings on labour costs. The inflatable conveyor system can be driven into an open field or covered growing area. Within minutes up to 100 metres of powered conveyor belt can be deployed allowing crops to be processed at high speed straight to cool storage, or washing, or simply sorted and graded while still in the field.
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