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University of Plymouth research

Robots to help Cornwall cauliflower growers

University of Plymouth researchers are currently working in Cornwall cauliflower fields to see if smart robots could fill gaps in labour market and help cut costs. Manual labour can represent around half of total costs of agriculture and can sometimes be in short supply, particularly around harvest. So automating the process would not only keep overheads down but make sure farmers are not left with food rotting in fields because of a lack of human workers.

Robotics lecturer Dr Martin Stoelen invented the ‘GummiArm’ robot which moves more like a human than a machine, and has jointed arms which can be made soft or stiff, depending on if the task requires strength, or a more gentle touch.

Photos: University of Plymouth reports how cameras and sensors in its dexterous fingers can also assess the crop as it grows, so it can determine exactly which vegetables to harvest, and which to leave.

Dr Stoelen: “Ultimately, machines such as this will make life easier and simpler as a farmer. Machines could even be ‘repurposed’ throughout the growing season, allowing the core technology to be rolled out to other operations – such as weeding or the application of pesticides. If the robot is reconfigurable, it could be relevant to other brassicas and indeed other crops. It’s also a cool technology which might encourage more young people to choose a career in agriculture.”

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