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  1. ITV Report

Scientists at the University of Plymouth have invented a fruit-picking robot

A robot which can harvest fruit has completed its first testing phase.

The prototype system, developed by Fieldwork Robotics from the work of Plymouth University robotics lecturer Dr Martin Stoelen, was tested at a farm in West Sussex which supplies major supermarkets.

Data from the trials will be used to refine and improve the system before further trials are held later this year.

If they are successful, manufacturing of a commercial product is expected to begin in 2020.

Once the technology has been successfully field tested it can be adapted for other fruit and vegetables. Credit: University of Plymouth

Starting the field testing at Hall Hunter Partnership is a major milestone for us, and will give us invaluable feedback to keep developing the system towards commercialisation, as part of our Innovate UK funding. I am very proud of the achievements of the team, at Fieldwork Robotics Ltd and across my different research projects, on robotic harvesting here at the University of Plymouth."

– Dr Martin Stoelen
There are also plans for robots which can pick larger vegetables. Credit: University of Plymouth

The university says once the system is proved to work with raspberries, it can be adapted for other soft fruits and vegetables, with the same researchers also developing proof-of-concept robots for other crops following interest from leading agribusinesses.

Earlier this year, Fieldwork, along with University of Plymouth and the National Physical Laboratory, was awarded a £547,250 to develop a multi-armed robot prototype.

As has always been the case, for agricultural and horticultural businesses such as ours to stay competitive in developed economies, we must embrace and invest in the latest technological innovations as they evolve. At HHP we foresee that the direct application of robotics platforms for harvest and husbandry activities, combined with the spin-off benefits of additional data collection and microanalysis they make possible will play a significant role in increasing product quality, productivity and yields in the near to medium term.

– David Green, Hunter Hall Partnership

Dr Stoelen is also leading a project to develop robot systems to harvest cauliflowers, supported by Agri-Tech Cornwall, an initiative part funded by the European Regional Development Fund with match-funding from Cornwall Council.

He is also working on a tomato-picking project in partnership with Shanghai Jiao Tong University.