Remember that roll-out vegetable mat we looked at this week? Turns out it makes harvesting fruits and vegetables look like hard work compared to the National Physical Laboratory’s (NPL) intelligent harvesting machine. The proposed robot will look below the top layers of a crop to identify different materials and estimate total size. This could be useful for crops like cauliflower and lettuce, which have such a large amount of leafage that it becomes difficult for human eyes to detect how big they are (and whether they are ripe for picking).
The robot will use radio frequencies, terahertz, infrared, and microwaves to penetrate below a crop’s surface and measure size. The technology has already been proven at the Fanuc Robotics headquarters in Coventry, U.K. Now G, one of the U.K.’s largest lettuce growers, wants to take over the project and develop a working robot by the beginning of next year. Such a robot will be able to both identify and harvest crops.
NPL’s robot could offset some of the $165,000 lost by an average farm each year from lost crop revenue. It might also save farms cash by allowing them to get rid of migrant workers. Which raises some important questions: how many people could this thing put out of work? And what happens if our robot overlords break down and there aren’t any migrant workers to take over? The robot’s usefulness will also depend on how much energy it sucks up to identify and harvest crops. If it uses too much, farmer’s might find that human workers–and their diminished productivity–make more sense.