Thorvald was created by scientists from the University of Lincoln, in partnership with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
Its creators originally envisaged the robot as a mobile lab assistant, allowing them to conduct experiments designed to improve efficiency, sustainability and reduce waste throughout the food supply chain. But with new funding and mass production, Thorvald could become the next generation of inexpensive farm labour.
Now one of the UK’s largest produce companies has invested funding to help pay a team of more than 30 scientists to realise this ambition. And the mystery firm hopes to plug a gap in the labour force that they fear the UK’s exit from the European Union will bring, according to reports in the Financial Times.
Speaking to the paper, robotics professor Pål Johan From said:
“That’s the main motivation for this — it’s a huge concern”.
“They are more or less desperate because they don’t know what the situation will be in two or three years”.
Its lightweight design makes manoeuvring over uneven ground easy and it is agile enough to navigate between rows of crops without touching plants.
The robot’s sturdy frame make it suitable for carrying loads, which could save farm workers hours of traipsing across fields.
It is also capable of carrying out more delicate work, like using its on-board sensors to monitor the condition of crops and soil, as well as weeding out any unwanted plants and using UV light to stop mildew from damaging plants.
It can be steered manually, using a games console controller, and its creators are working to make the system fully autonomous.
But they believe it will take be at least another decade before the robots are able to operate with the same skill as a human worker.
Speaking to the FT, Mr From added:
“They have the potential, really, to do any task in agriculture. I would say it’s 10 to 20 years before we can make a robot that can pick [a strawberry] at the same speed as a human. Raspberries are even harder.”
Source: Daily Mail