There Is No Labor Shortage On This Farm

The Lempert Report
April 04, 2018

Scientists at the University of Plymouth are developing ground-breaking technology which could assist fruit and vegetable growers with the challenges they face in harvesting crops.

The Automated Brassica harvesting in Cornwall (ABC) project is being led by Lecturer in Robotics Dr. Martin Stoelen, with key agricultural expertise provided by Professor of Plant Physiology Mick Fuller.

And it’s all about robots, which can work alongside existing workforces and ensure any gaps in productivity are filled. And its a pretty serious project as it is funded by a three-year 20 million pound – that's over $27 million - initiative. 

Stoelen has already developed technology that can harvest tomatoes, raspberries and sugar snap peas, and is now focused on the picking of cauliflower, broccoli, kale and cabbage. 

At the heart of his vision, according to, is the concept of 'variable stiffness' because while most robot arms are rigid, the ability to flex and bend is vital in a more variable environment. Dr. Stoelen’s the GummiArm changes all that as it has two arms and, in many ways, it moves more like a human than a machine. 

Another of the challenges is how to enable the robot to identify the cauliflowers that are ready for harvest and to distinguish which ones to pick.

The solution comes through cameras and sensors in its 'hands' that can make real-time 3-D models of the crop by assessing the information it assimilates, allowing it to recognize what to collect and what to leave.

Dr. Stoelen says, "Ultimately, machines such as this will make life easier and simpler as a farmer, but it's also cool technology which might encourage more young people to choose a career in agriculture. There are a lot of small producers here in Cornwall and they shouldn't be excluded from taking advantage of technology because it has the power to transform their lives, just as it can for larger producers."