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Research

Automated harvesting of whole-head iceberg lettuce

Abstract

This project will develop an innovative robotic solution to a problem of access toseasonal labour in the horticulture sector, that has been an increasing problemexacerbated by the impact and movement restrictions caused by Covid 19. It's a collaboration between Grimme, University of West of England, Image Development Systems, Agri-EPI, PDM and G's bringing together experts in vegetable harvesting machinery, machine vision, project management, knowledge exchange and dissemination with the two largest growers in the UK. Harper Adams University will supply agronomy support to Grimme to assist product development.

Description

The horticulture sector is heavily reliant on access to seasonal labour for many field operations, including harvest. Movement restrictions because of Covid-19, post-Brexit uncertainty, competition from other sectors, and the lack of suitable UK-based labour have driven growers to seek investments in labour-replacing technologies.
99,000 tonnes of lettuce were harvested by seasonal workers in the UK in 2019 with a farm gate value of £178 million (Defra BHS, 2020), UK's highest value field vegetable crop.
This project has identified an opportunity to automate the process, and reduce the reliance on seasonal labour, by developing an innovative robotic solution.
We intend to adapt existing mechanical capability and lift the lettuce clear of the ground by discs and then gripping the stem with pinch belts.
The lettuce will then be presented to camera sensors and the outer wrapper leaves of the lettuce head will be cleared to expose the stem.
Machine vision via deep segmentation will then be deployed using a second camera sensor to train a deep learning model to identify the precise location to be cut.
The three separate developments will be combined to form a prototype for fieldtrials towards the end of the 2021 UK season.

Funding Body

Innovate UK

Lead Organisation

Grimme UK Ltd

Partners

Agri-Epi Centre, University of West of England, Imaging development Systems, PDM, G's

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