Many farms have problems finding sufficient seasonal workers for harvesting asparagus or lettuce, for example. For them, the Vegebot developed at the University of Cambridge in England may soon serve as an alternative. The scientists trained this robot to identify individual iceberg lettuce heads, to determine whether a head is already ripe, and to cut it off properly. In lettuce production, harvesting is the only remaining manual step. Now it too could be done by machines. The researchers admit that the robot is by far not as fast and efficient as a human being. But it can work around the clock without taking breaks.
The Vegebot consists of two components: a computer vision system and a cutting device. The robot’s camera first takes a picture of the entire field, then identifies the individual lettuce heads before determining which of them can be harvested. For the training, the researchers developed a machine learning algorithm and fed it images of mature lettuce heads. They then continued training the robot on the field, in different weather conditions and with thousands of real lettuce heads. A scientific evaluation of the Vegebot’s development is available in the Journal of Field Robotics.