A vegetable-picking robot uses machine learning to identify and harvest iceberg lettuce.
The ‘Vegebot’, developed by a team at the University of Cambridge, was initially trained to recognise and harvest iceberg lettuce in a lab setting. It has now been successfully tested in a variety of field conditions.
Although many crops have been harvested by robots before, such as potatoes and wheat, iceberg lettuce provides a challenge to scientists working in agricultural robotics. Heads of the lettuce are easily damaged by frost and grow relatively flat to the ground.
The 'Vegebot' can identify a head of lettuce, determine whether it is a healthy crop or not and cut the lettuce from the ground without crushing it.
“We wanted to develop approaches that weren’t necessarily specific to iceberg lettuce so that they can be used for other types of above-ground crops,” said Dr Fumiya Iida, who leads the team behind the research.
“We’re also collecting lots of data about lettuce, which could be used to improve efficiency, such as which fields have the highest yields,” co-author Josie Hughes. “We’ve still got to speed our Vegebot up to the point where it could compete with a human, but we think robots have lots of potential in agri-tech.”
A giant Agave plant is expected to soon be flowering for the first time since 1962.
Growing at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, the Agave plant grew a flower spike and is now over three meters, growing 10 centimetres per day.
They will soon have to remove the roof of the glasshouse as it continues to grow, but once it flowers, the spike will die.
Agaves are monocarpic, which means they only flower once, set seed and then die.
The exact species of the plant has been a mystery for the staff, as they couldn't tell for sure until they saw what flower it produces. Staff expects the plant won't flower for at least another month.
Sally Petitt, head of horticulture at the garden, said: "It's very exciting for us - it was sitting there quite quietly and then all of a sudden this happened."