Robotic strawberry pickers could be on the way


October 20, 2011

Scientists at the UK's National Physical Laboratory have developed technology that can identify ripe strawberries in the field, which could lead to robotic strawberry pickers

Scientists at the UK's National Physical Laboratory have developed technology that can identify ripe strawberries in the field, which could lead to robotic strawberry pickers

Now that we're moving towards automated orange-sorting and autonomous tractors, what might be the next step in replacing human agricultural workers with machines? Well, how about robotic strawberry pickers? That's what scientists from the UK's National Physical Laboratory (NPL) say could be on the way, thanks to a system that is able to identify ripe strawberries in the field.

Work first began on the system in 2009, at which time is was being developed for use with cauliflowers. Although it was reportedly successful, a drop-off in demand for the vegetables caused the project to stall. It has since been revived, for use with other crops. Strawberries are particularly well-suited to the technology, as their high water content and dry leaves make them easier for the system to image, and the time-consuming process of picking them by hand could be greatly reduced through automation.

The system is able to non-invasively "see" beneath the surface of strawberries using four parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, namely radio frequencies, microwaves, terahertz radiation and far-infrared light. Both the hardware and software involved are reportedly able to detect which berries are ripe enough for picking, and are able to do so for a relatively low cost.

Although robotic strawberry-picking machines would undoubtedly put some field workers out of a job, the NPL scientists say that they would also boost efficiency and reduce waste, as under-ripe berries wouldn't be picked and then discarded. The technology could possibly also be used for sorting municipal waste.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

This could allow strawberries to be grown in places where people wouldn\'t be able to pick. They could grow in places where animals would not have easy access. This could increase production.

Carlos Grados

Another case of technology making humans obsolete. Technology gives one man the ability of a thousand, and then it burdens the Earth with the thousand people it just made redundant.


Great Nelson, Lets all go back to making our own food, making our own tools, making our own houses. You could lead the way! Get rid of your car and build your own from scratch! You could make the frame from iron ore. Make the the tires yourself. Make the fuel yourself. Make the alternator; engine; fuel pump; fuel tank; suspension; seats; dashboard; fuel injection system; break system; and the other thousand associated parts! Then you would have a job and you would not be a burden on the earth!

Dennis: the reductio ad absurdum can be done in the other way: lets give all the jobs to automated sistems, until there's no job for any human. I live in a third world country. I agree that technology cant be stopped, but why can't it take also the direction of a human-labor activity?

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