Vineyard robot to counter labour shortages

A remote operated vineyard robot has been developed in an effort to help solve a chronic agricultural labour shortage.

The remote operated vineyard robot keeps a human operator in the loop via a virtual reality (VR) interface – image courtesy of Digital Harvest.
The remote operated vineyard robot keeps a human operator in the loop via a virtual reality (VR) interface – image courtesy of Digital Harvest.

Developed over the past 18 months by Virginia-based agri solutions company Digital Harvest, the remote operated vineyard robot (ROVR) is described as a “fully mobile concept demonstrator”.

The ROVR robotic worker system reportedly bypasses many of the long-standing technical challenges of machine learning and intelligence by keeping a human operator in the loop via a virtual reality (VR) interface.

CEO of Digital Harvest, Young Kim explained: “We tried many types of tools to operate the robotic arms, such as joysticks and game controllers, but none were capable of allowing the system to operate at the similar level of accuracy or speed as traditional skilled workers.

“By using Virtual Reality as an operator interface, we not only improved manual dexterity, but also opened up the possibility of human workers being able to teleport to work from anywhere.”

Industrial robots are increasingly taking over the low-level, dirty or dangerous tasks for workers, with automation systems prevalent with manufacturing and engineering organisations the world over. However, their presence outside the factory is another story.

Robotics researchers and innovators (with few exceptions) have yet to realise the goal of developing cost-effective robots capable of replicating the productivity of skilled farm workers, and that’s despite tens of thousands of man-hours and huge sums of money, according to Digital Harvest.

As the labour force that tree and vine fruit growers depend on continues to decline, the complexities and costs associated with finding new workers have left the industry in crisis.

Multiple surveys of fruit and vegetable growers across several territories have confirmed that labour is the number one challenge facing agricultural growth.

In the UK, there is currently great uncertainty regarding future access to EU workers, many of which work on farms picking fruit and vegetables. This is compounding the already serious issue of the industry’s aging workforce, with many thousands of workers set to retire over the next 10 years.

The Manufacturer Smart Factory Expo

Nov 15-16, 2017 – Exhibition Centre Liverpool

The UK’s biggest showcase for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – a revolution in manufacturing agility, innovation and thinking.

Highlighting the best solution providers and technology offerings, this unique FREE event is for manufacturing business leaders keen to adopt the relevant tools and knowledge to drive business growth.

New for 2017:

  • Buyer Lounges – matching buyers and sellers
  • Tech Zones – Industrial IoT, Automation & Robotics, Additive Manufacturing, Digital Transformation, and Big Data
  • Solution Theatres – engaging expo attendees with case studies and cutting-edge developments
  • Mentor Clinics – find the answers to your questions
  • Innovation Alley – growing the expo ecosystem with hardware start-ups