Colour-smart robot has eye for strawberries

Harvesting fruit takes a skilled eye and mechanical precision

It's well known that mechanisation has made massive, rapid changes to modern farming methods, so it's inevitable that robotics will be the next new frontier for food production.

Already pushing that frontier, we find a Japanese university working on a robotic device to help harvest fruit as accurately as a skilled human.

The machine, which comes from a start-up connected to Utsunomiya University, gathers strawberries and is known, rather practically, as Ichigo Tsumi, or Strawberry Picking Robot.

Colour sensitive

As the key to plucking a ripe strawberry from the plant is in selecting one with the perfect red hue, the robot has a camera just underneath its arm. When it judges the fruit to be ready, it snips it off and drops it into a basket.

This being Japan, of course, the machines masters have added a cutesy touch. When it sets to work, Ichigo Tsumi pipes up: "Measuring ... oh, I found one. Starting to pick."

After favourable tests with real strawberry farmers, the university firm plans to start selling the fruit-finding robots in about two years' time. Given that they can work in darkness as well as daylight, larger strawberry farms are sure to be interested.