Inventors at Plymouth University have developed a cauliflower-picking robot.

GummiArm

GummiArm

The GummiArm was created at the south west education establishment to help deal with staff shortages at cauliflower farms in Cornwall.

It works by using sensors and cameras to decipher whether a cauliflower is ready to be picked and then uses a plucking motion, similar to how a person would do it, to harvest it without bruising the vegetable.

Dr Martin Stoelen of the University of Plymouth said: "A lot of producers are very worried about where they will get their reasonably priced manual labour from - and rightly so. Manual harvesting also represents a large portion of their total costs, often it can be up to 50 per cent, so looking at addressing that, especially against a backdrop of Brexit, is very important."

Whilst David Simmons, Managing Director of Riviera Produce, who are working on the project too, added: "Harvesting costs can be up to 40 per cent of the costs of production of brassicas and skilled labour to do the harvesting is getting increasingly difficult to obtain, especially with Brexit fast approaching. In a very competitive market place where our customers demand cheap food, the cost of harvesting is continually rising. Robotic harvesting has the potential to increase productivity and control the costs."

The robots have been programmed to only pick cauliflowers which are ripe.

Professor Simon Blackmore, who developed the picker, shared: "I am trying to develop a completely new agricultural mechanisation system based on small smart machines. We are developing laser weeding, droplet application where only 100 per cent of the chemical goes onto the target leaf, selective harvesting where we can grade the product at the point of harvest."

The technology is still in development, but it is thought it could be rolled out in the next couple of years.