The University of Lincoln, UK, has been quietly developing 3D camera technology that is expected to result in a fully automatic robotic harvesting system for British home grown crops.
The University of Lincoln is one of 70 UK organisations and academia that have taken a share of a £70Million funding pot divvied out by Agri-Tech Catalysts – the fund is aimed to improve the development of agricultural technology in the UK as recently outlined in the RAS2020 robotic roadmap.
The harvesting project, which is co-funded by BBSRC and Innovate UK will test whether 3D camera tech can be used to identify and select when broccoli is ripe for harvest. This will be a key step forward in the reduction of overall production costs associated with organic farming in the UK and has been subject to praise by Farming minister George Eustice for being a “world leading” innovation in the Agri-sector.
The research team is made up of academics:
- Professor Tom Duckett and Dr Grzegorz Cielniak from Lincoln’s School of Computer Science.
- Dr Simon Pearson from the University’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) at Holbeach.
- The main industry partner is R. Fountain & Son Ltd, horticultural consultants based in Boston.
Project lead Professor Tom Duckett, group co-ordinator of the Agri-Food Technology Research Group at the University of Lincoln, said: “Broccoli is one of the world’s largest vegetable crops and is almost entirely manually harvested, which is costly. This technology is seen as being an important move towards developing fully automatic robot harvesting systems, which could then be used for a variety of different crops.
“In all our Agri-related research work, our mission is to develop new technological solutions for the business of producing food through agriculture. The long-term impact of our research includes safer food, less waste, more efficient food production and better use of natural resources, as well as promoting human health and happiness.”
Head of Agriculture and Food at Innovate UK Ian Meikle said: “The Agri-Tech Strategy aims to make the UK a world leader in agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability. The funding decisions are expert-led and evidence-based. They support great ideas that address challenges of the future in food and farming. With business, research and government working together, these investments can unlock potential and deliver major benefits for society and the economy.”
Although the project is primarily aimed at the Broccoli harvesting market – its possible commercial range is limitless and is anticipated to broaden it’s development into a long-awaited alternative to the use of pesticides in the mushroom and potato industries.
Principal Investigator Dr Bukola Daramola, from the University’s NCFM, said: “Food loss from farm to fork, due to disease and spoilage, causes considerable environmental and economic effects. The outputs of this project have the potential to significantly address the challenges presented to the mushroom and potato sectors by pathogenic bacteria and fungi, their detection and resistance to treatment. At the heart of the project is a drive to develop robust solutions for bio-monitoring and bio-control, leading to scientific advancement and the marketing of products which will ultimately have significant economic and societal benefit for the UK and beyond.”