A new project aims to tackle the lack of seasonal labour in the UK horticulture industry as researchers look to accelerate the delivery of robotic crop systems.
Agri-OpenCore aims to slash the time and cost of developing a robotic harvesting system that achieves parity with human picking.
As part of it, researchers want to develop commercial systems for tomato and strawberry harvesting that achieve human-picking-cost-parity in two years.
There is currently no robotic harvesting system that can match the speed of human picking.
It comes as many crops have gone unpicked this year, leading to large amounts of unnecessary waste.
NFU President Minette Batters has said that the waste in the food sector was an ‘absolute crisis’.
Agri-OpenCore, which is being spearheaded by numerous agri-tech and universities, will develop the world’s first open development platform for agri-robotic harvesting.
Dr Grzegorz Cielniak, associate professor at the Lincoln Agri-Robotics Centre said: “The platform will facilitate standardised access to the core robotic software and hardware components enabling rapid adoption by the industry and academia.
“The University of Lincoln team will work on the standardisation of the framework as well as on the development of the autonomy, perception and safety components.
“The core functionality of the platform will enable further development and customisation which can be privately exploited by the industry.”
Researchers hope the project will lead to faster adoption of more reliable robotic technology in agriculture which will be demonstrated by developing robotic tomato and strawberry harvesting systems.
Dr Cielniak said: “Such a strategy will lead to step changes in farming productivity and help to alleviate global problems with the availability of a workforce in the sector.”
Phil Pearson, group development director at APS Group, added: “The Agri-OpenCore robotics project is an exciting, and vital project for the fresh produce industry.
“It promises to deliver the significant progress required to automate fresh produce harvesting in the UK.”