The Financial Times reports that, as Christmas approaches at the Melrow nursery in Merseyside, north-west England, one worker wants no holiday, has no concerns about catching Covid-19 and is happy to work up to 23 hours a day plucking piccolo tomatoes.
The Eagle robot, acquired by the nursery’s owner Flavourfresh in June, identifies and snips clusters of tomatoes and gathers data at the futuristic “Genesis” glasshouse where the crop grows year-round under LED lighting.
The machine’s makers, London-based Xihelm, are among the start-ups vying to bring harvesting robots into commercial use by perfecting both the artificial intelligence used to pinpoint ripe fruit and the precision engineering to pick it. Labour problems linked to coronavirus and Brexit have pushed forward development in a growing UK sector trying to solve one of the trickiest problems in agricultural technology.
“We see it as a tool to enable us to better operate our business and give us information we haven’t had before, which would actually transform the way in which we harvest and grow our crops,” said Charmay Prout, managing director at Flavourfresh, a salad and fruit grower.