At the start of this year the University of Lincoln, Saga Robotics UK and Berry Gardens Growers Ltd began a two-year project (RAS-Berry) to develop advanced autonomous systems to support the production of soft fruit. The project is the largest of its kind within the European Union.
The project has been cited as a ‘trailblazing’ project in artificial intelligence by BEIS, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, in its AI Sector Deal. The deal pledges an additional £1 billion of funding to put the UK at the forefront of the artificial intelligence industry.
The machines can transport heavy boxes of fruit from the picking point to the collection point, relieving agricultural workers from the heavy work. Ultimately, the machines are designed to increase productivity at the point the fruit is picked.
The venture, seen as revolutionary for Greater Lincolnshire as an agricultural region, is being strongly supported by the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership.
Ursula Lidbetter MBE, Chair of the LEP, commented: “Greater Lincolnshire is a major food-producing area and the agri-food industry is one of our six priority sectors.
“It’s fantastic to see a Lincolnshire-based project leading the way in AI. This will really put Lincolnshire on the map for developing technologies that can help and support the county’s food producers to grow and innovate.”
As well as partnering with Saga Robotics UK and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Berry Gardens Growers has also enlisted the help from the Lincoln Institute of Agri Food Technology at the University of Lincoln.
Simon Pearson, Professor of Agri-Food Technology at the university, commented: “We are delighted that Lincoln’s research has been recognised as a trailblazer for AI. Our work is focussed on the agri-food chain and this sector is now entering the digital age.
“These new and augmented technologies have the power to transform productivity within this critical sector of the UK economy.”
Richard Harnden, Director of Research at Berry Gardens Growers Ltd, said: “Robotic strawberry picking is still some years away, but this associated project will help human pickers by removing the burden of carrying full trays of fruit from the field to the collecting point on the field margin.
“This makes their task substantially easier as well as increasing the amount of time they have available for picking.
“We are delighted to have won the funding for this futuristic project from Innovate UK and look forward to seeing the autonomous Thorvald robots being used by our growers in two years’ time.”
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