This fruit-picking robot can pick up to 25,000 raspberries a day, and it could someday replace human workers

The raspberry-picking robot.

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The raspberry-picking robot.
source
Courtesy of University of Plymouth

  • A new robot is being developed to efficiently pick raspberries.
  • The robot uses machine learning techniques to identify “supermarket ripe” raspberries via its cameras and sensors.
  • The developers say it could pick more than 25,000 raspberries a day; humans pick around 15,000 a day.
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Raspberry-picking robots are on the horizon.

A new robot being developed by Fieldwork Robotics, a spin-out company from Plymouth University, could let farmers pick more than 25,000 raspberries a day.

The robot was devised by Dr. Martin Stoelen, a lecturer in robotics at Plymouth University. We first heard about the robot via The Guardian.

The robot uses machine learning techniques to identify “supermarket ripe” raspberries by using its cameras and sensors. Once it has identified a good raspberry to pick, the grippers (which could be loosely compared to barbecue tongs) home in on the fruit and pull it off before placing it into a nearby basket. The technology has cost nearly $900,000 to develop.

According to Andrew Johnson, a spokesperson for Frontier IP – a company that specializes in commercializing university intellectual property which is backing Fieldwork – this process could see a robot picking one raspberry every 10 seconds for 20 hours day.

Once the robot is fully kitted out with its four arms (it currently has just one), this would enable it to pick more than 25,000 raspberries a day, well over the 15,000 average that a human could rack up in an eight-hour shift, for example.

The new technology could potentially give farmers a way around labor shortage issues and the rising cost to hire human pickers.

Raspberry robot

source
Courtesy of University of Plymouth

The first trial of the technology was recently held in West Sussex at a farm owned by Fieldwork’s industry partner, UK soft-fruit grower Hall Hunter, which supplies Marks & Spencer, Tesco, and Waitrose.

Johnson said Fieldwork plans to do more trials in the fall and use the data from these to refine and improve the technology. The hope is to begin manufacturing commercial machines in 2020.

It’s not just raspberries that could see the picking process completely reformed. Stoelen started out with this fruit because it’s less robust than other types, and he wanted to try a complex process first. But work on tomato and cauliflower picking is already underway.