Robot lettuce pickers and the future of farming

Lettuce Bot

California-based startup Blue River Technology has introduced to the local farming community the concept of Lettuce Bot, a robot that thins a field of lettuce in the time it takes about 20 workers to do the same job by hand.

The process of “thinning” lettuce refers to the removal of excess plants to give space for others to grow into full lettuce heads. The Lettuce Bot robot uses video cameras and visual-recognition software to identify the heads of lettuce that need to be eliminated, which is done with a squirt of concentrated fertilizer that kills unwanted buds while enriching the soil.

Lettuce Bots are part of an ongoing trend of agricultural mechanization that targets fruit and vegetables that are destined for the fresh market, not processing, according to an article from The Herald Sun. More and more researchers have been developing these types of robots, which include sensors, computer vision, robotic hardware, and algorithms, in addition to GPS localization technologies.

Jorge Heraud, one of the Lettuce Bot’s creators, told Modern Farmer that the idea of Lettuce Bot came about as a result of wanting to use him and his partner Lee Redden’s knowledge of robotics, computer vision, and machine learning algorithms to advance the growing field.

Prior to the Lettuce Bot being available for purchase, Blue River plans to start an operating service where it charges by the acre. This way, farmers can get a glimpse of how the Lettuce Bot will work in a more low-risk financial move.

Blue River has raised more than $3 million in venture capital and is also planning to develop machines to automate weeding and harvesting.

View the interview in Modern Farmer.

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