The robot takeover of farm labor made another step forward this week as researchers unveiled a prototype of a machine that can now perform a task once possible only with the human hand.
A team of engineers at the University of Cambridge have developed a robot that can manoeuvre so deftly that it’s able to pick up a lettuce head, find its outer layer of leaves, and delicately remove them.
The machine is able to perform this task using three tools: a camera to size-up an individual lettuce head and find its stem, an arm to roll and position the lettuce for tearing, and another arm with a suction device on the end for removing leaves.
“When you harvest a lettuce, the outer leaves of the lettuce need to be removed before the lettuce is ready to go into retail,” said Luca Scrimeca, one of the researchers, in a statement. “The leaves are soft, they tear easily, and the shape of the lettuce is never a given.”
Qz.com reports how the technology was developed by the university’s Machine Intelligence Laboratory, and it’s currently able to perform full leaf removal about 50% of the time and in about 27 seconds. The researchers say the same technology can be applied more easily to other, less delicate crops, such as cauliflower.