fruit picking robot

A group of engineering and technology consultants have come up with a potential game-changer for the use of robots in the grocery industry.

Cambridge Consultants says it has found a way of combining machine “vision” and algorithms in a “breakthrough” development that could “transform how our groceries are selected” from field to warehouse.

It has created, for demonstration purposes, a fruit-picking robot - a custom-made hand that adapts to the shape of fruit and securely grips it without damaging it. Once picked, the fruit can also be sorted by colour or any other specification so that, for example, red apples can be separated from green apples.

Cambridge said this was a “disruptive development” because the new robots could work around people, cope with irregular items and adapt to a changing environment.

Up until now, robots have only been able to perform repetitive tasks within a controlled environment, typically reliant on a detailed computer-aided design (CAD) model.

“Our innovative blend of existing technologies and novel signal processing techniques has resulted in a radical new system design that is poised to disrupt the industry,” said Cambridge Consultants head of industrial robotics Chris Roberts.

“Our world-class industrial sensing and control team has combined high-powered image-processing algorithms with low-cost sensors and commodity hardware to allow ‘soft’ control of robots when the task is not rigidly defined.”

Cambridge Consultants would not disclose whether it was working in collaboration with any food suppliers or retailers.

The robot will be given its first public demonstration next week at the Electronic Design Show in Coventry.