University of Lincoln has been interested in fruit-picking innovation for a long time. 'That has a history back at University of Lincoln, it [was] one of the main...interests at the university before I joined the university, and I see strawberry is one of the main products in the UK...and there is a huge challenge for the picking post-Brexit in the UK,' Dr. Ghalamzan-Esfahani told The Courier. As associate professor in robotics at Lincoln, he is in an ideal position to direct key research. Though Brexit's impact on labour shortages is contested, universities are looking to technology for a solution: 'Last year...there were labour shortages in the UK, above 20,000 people, so that was massive. Thinking about the technology, we can address this problem and have a good impact on the UK economy and UK society'.
One of the challenges that we have in terms of sustainability is that we are not using the resources that we have efficientlyDr. Amir Ghalamzan-Esfahani - University of Lincoln
'One of the challenges that we have in terms of sustainability is that we are not using the resources that we have efficiently,' Dr. Ghalamzan-Esfahani said. 'Planning to use our resources more efficiently is one of the steps or actions we can take towards net zero or towards the sustainability'. He cited 'mass productions and mass agriculture' as 'using lots of water,' 'damaging...the soil' and 'using lots of chemicals'.
Dr. Ghalamzan-Esfahani claims this robot is an example of 'precision agriculture, which means we can use the right amount of, let's say, chemicals at the right location that provide the solutions or the outcome that we are expecting or that we are looking for'. Waste is a huge part of the issues driving climate change, and reducing how much we are using in industrial operations is seen by many as a key step towards sustainability.
The robot has the potential to change the format of farming: Ghalamzan-Esfahani cites plans to 'miniaturize these robots' for 'intensified...growing practices or vertical farming'. This would entail 'lots of plants in a unit volume'. This idea, he claims, is sustainable because 'the amount of energy that we need to produce the same amount of fruits are much less'. The space would be so small that 'a human cannot enter'.
On one hand, the robot would reduce the amount of human labour and resources needed for growing and processing strawberries. On the other hand, the production of such a device would still involve a lot of human labour and some of the parts needed to make it would still need to come from non-renewable resources. More research will need to be done to see if this is truly a sustainable way to pick fruit.