Labour shortages and the need to have reliable, efficient methods of harvesting are driving innovation in agricultural robotics. Innovators are working now on robots to harvest a range of crops and Cambridge agritech company Autopickr is focused on asparagus.

“We have been developing and testing ‘Gus’, our fully automated asparagus harvester over the last couple of years, following successful grant applications to Innovate UK. Gus incorporates cutting-edge AI and navigation technologies, robust robotics, and new cutting technology to optimise the harvesting process. Asparagus is a good target for our harvesting platform as the green stems stand out against the brown soil, making it clearly recognisable to robotic vision. Trials across a range of ground conditions have shown that Gus is efficient and reliable, plus its simple design makes it easy to maintain and repair,” explains Robyn Sands, Co-founder and CEO of Autokpickr.

With a change of batteries, Gus can pick night and day. This not only allows farmers to cut 24 hours a day if they need to, but also means they can increase production of asparagus knowing that harvesting will be reliable as and when the crop is ready. Autopickr is also working on solar charging to reduce costs further and cut down Gus’ carbon footprint.

Gus has been built to be cost-effective – the harvester is not over-engineered, so a grower could recoup the cost over perhaps three years. Autopickr are also hiring out their platform so growers can test it on the ground and be confident that it will live up to its promise.

But what happens to Gus when the asparagus harvest is over?

“Daffodils are another crop where we see great potential for robotic harvesting and we’re working on ways to ensure Gus picks the flower stem only rather than the leaves that surround it. These flowers are ready in February and March, of course, so there’s no overlap with the asparagus season. The success of our recent investment round will help us focus resources on tackling this challenge.

“We’ve had so much support from Richard Carey-Evans, our Senior Innovation and Growth Specialist, who works in the Innovate UK EDGE team at St John’s Innovation Centre. He has been brilliant, giving us sound advice and seems to be constantly thinking of us, sending over opportunities and connecting us to the innovation ecosystem. It was Richard who put us in touch with GrowthWorks and that has led to a very successful recent investment round in which we raised a total of £560,000.”

“Robyn and the Autopickr team have progressed massively over the past 18 months and really are now ready to conquer the world! It has been a privilege to play a small part in their impressive journey so far,” adds Richard Carey-Evans.