The Big Issue recently dug into why Brits are unwilling to pick fruit for a living amid fears that Brexit will see the seasonal EU workforce that powers the industry dry up.
Production is down with an estimated 20 per cent of fruit going unpicked, but consumer demand is up and the industry is struggling to meet the increased.
Now, the University of Essex has struck up an unlikely partnership with jam makers Wilkin & Sons of Tiptree which could see farmers lead the way in robotics and automation. And its robot arm is being developed to arrive just in time for Britain to the EU next March.
The project looks at the way robots could pick, inspect and package soft fruits. Assessing the ripeness of a piece of fruit is something the human eye can do in half a second, so the researchers must design the arm-like gadget to be similarly efficient.
The industrial-wide use of such gadgets – which use sensors and 3D cameras to manoeuvre – could also drastically reduce production costs.
Project lead Dr Vishuu Mohan said the biggest obstacle is constructing a smart robot to work in a natural, unstructured setting. “The challenge is that no two berries are the same – they come in different shapes, sizes, orders of ripeness and many are hidden in the foliage,” he explained.