At Clock House Farm the robots are taking over.
Clock House is a fruit farm, growing strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples, pears and plums on 330 hectares to the south of Coxheath in Kent. Like many fruit producers, Managing Director Oli Pascall is finding it challenging to get enough staff to pick the crops. So he’s looking to the future and has invited a team of scientists and engineers to test a fleet of autonomous robots on the farm.
The project is call Robot Highways and is a collaboration between the University of Lincoln and Saga Robotics. Many of the companies looking at automation in the fruit sector concentrate on the actual picking process, but this project is focused on everything else. For example, 20% of a human worker’s time is spent walking between the polytunnels and the pack house, carrying fruit. Now, robots are learning to do this job, leaving more time for the highly-trained human workers to pick fruit. Meanwhile, a fleet of robots has been working through the night on the farm, treating the strawberry plants with UV light to prevent fungal infection. So is this the future of fruit farming? And if so, what are the implications for the design of future farms?