A small but strong, remote-controlled vehicle was tested for its potential to fetch and carry berries picked at Place UK in Tunstead, near North Walsham. It was designed by Silverstone-based engineering firm Performance Projects, which specializes in hi-tech custom vehicles and works with Formula One and Le Mans motorsport teams.
Technical director Terence Goad said the GoFAR platform - which can be configured for purposes including mobile robotics - is the vehicular part of an agri-tech partnership with the University of Lincoln, which is working on automation and crop sensing technologies.
The eventual goal is a time-saving autonomous robot that could increase the labor efficiency of berry production.
Performance Projects' GoFAR vehicle being trialed at Norfolk fruit farm Place UK / Image: Performance Projects.
Goad: "At the moment, the GoFAR is just fetching and delivering stuff around the farm, which allows these robotics companies to concentrate on the clever stuff, the AI [artificial intelligence] and crop recognition. When you are picking fruit, there is a trolley with typically four crates on it which you fill with punnets and walk over to the collection station. That is an appreciable amount of dead time lost."
"The efficiency comes when you have an autonomous machine to do the gophering from the pickers to the picking station. Then everyone is happy - the farmers are more efficient, and the pickers can spend more time picking and get their bonuses."