Automated Brassica Harvesting in Cornwall (ABC)

Automated Brassica Harvesting in Cornwall (ABC) is developing robotic systems for automating manual picking operations in the horticultural sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. 

The main crops for the project are cauliflower, broccoli, kale and cabbage which are extensively grown in Cornwall. The project aims to demonstrate ‘proof-of-concept’ autonomous harvesting robots for horticultural crops to help drive up productivity in the sector. A two-handed robot test rig is being designed, built, and tested under field conditions in Cornwall.

The project uses soft robot arm technology, in which the robot arm joints are able to vary their stiffness in real-time, softening to withstand an impact during fast ballistic phases of movement, and then stiffening to ensure accuracy during the approach and picking phase. 

The ABC team hope that their selective harvesting platforms will help to address the challenges addressed by vegetable growers as producers seek to cut costs and meet demanding specifications from buyers.

Variable Stiffness Robotic Arms

On the ABC project, we use robot arms with variable stiffness based on the GummiArm design (Stoelen et al., 2016). This robotic arm can vary its passive compliance (or softness) through its agonist-antagonist actuator-tendon configuration. This means it has the ability to co-contract muscles to increase joint stiffness, just like a human arm.

Thanks to this bio-inspired design, the system can absorb shocks and be safe around people, while maintaining precision when required. This makes it highly suited to complex and unpredictable agricultural environments.


Swarm Robotics and Agriculture

Swarm robotics is an emerging technology, inspired by the behaviour of ants, bees, starlings, and other natural systems. It has the potential to revolutionise food production by enabling flexible, scalable, and reliable precision agriculture at low cost. Co-ordinating fleets of small autonomous robots can minimise soil compaction, increase farming resolution and provide solutions that are intrinsically safer than larger agricultural vehicles. 

On the ABC project, Dr Millard is exploring ways in which multi-robot systems can be applied to harvesting, weeding, and monitoring in the field. 

Meet the ABC Team

Dr Martin Stoelen

Lecturer in Robotics

Dr Stoelen is a Lecturer in Robotics at the University of Plymouth, and the founding director of the University spin-out company Fieldwork Robotics Ltd, an Innovate UK funded company working towards multi-crop selective harvesting robots for horticulture, based on soft and variable-stiffness robot technology. Dr Stoelen also holds an academic post at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. He developed the open-source GummiArm robot in 2015, replicated in several research labs around the world.

Dr Alan Millard

Lecturer in Robotics

Dr Millard is a Lecturer in Robotics at the University of Plymouth. He specialises in swarm robotics, investigating methods of engineering multi-robot systems capable of long-term autonomy. 

He is currently exploring the application of swarm robotics in agriculture - from cereal and brassica harvesting, to precision weeding and soil health monitoring. 


Frederico Klein

Systems engineer - ABC project

Frederico Klein is a systems engineer on the ABC project, working primarily on software infrastructure, including model generation, multi-robot simulation, and sensor integration. 

He also provides support with ROS and Python, as well as the GummiArm code, providing advice and guidance on how the code works and how to implement alterations. 



Alfred Wilmot

Robotics Engineer, ABC project

Alfred Wilmot is a graduate of robotics from the University of Plymouth. After finishing his International Baccalaureate high-school diploma in Iceland and studying mechatronics at the University of Reykjavik, he returned to the UK to study in Plymouth. 

He is currently working on developing hardware and software for the GummiArm robot, which is being used to research the automation of cauliflower harvesting on the ABC project. Alfred is also the co-founder of a start-up company, Access Robotics Ltd, specialising in engineering and prototyping services for electromechanical products. 

Virginia Fernandez de Tejada

Systems Engineer - ABC project

Virginia Fernandez de Tejada is a systems engineer on the ABC project, and is currently pursuing her PhD in agricultural robotics. Her research mainly focuses on deep learning techniques for fruit/vegetable detection and maturity classification, 3D perception, and affordance in robotic manipulation for harvesting robots.

On the ABC project, she is working on the grasping tasks of the robotic arm, which involves work on perception, planning, and precision grasping. She is testing the robotic arms on the dedicated cauliflower testing crops grown at the university, and gathering data to inform future development.

Benjamin Green

Robotics Engineer - ABC project

Benjamin Green is a robotics engineer on the ABC project, working on developing the robotic arms for harvesting tasks. His work includes designing parts, as well as programming the arms to locate, grasp, and cut the crops. He is also working on the preparation of a new, larger machine to send for field testing. 

<p>ABC project - Agri-Tech</p>
<p>Brassica field in Cornwall<br></p>
<p>Robot arm picking cauliflowers</p>

Robotic Harvesting - Beyond ABC

I am very proud of the achievements of the team, at Fieldwork Robotics Ltd and across my different research projects on robotic harvesting here at the University of Plymouth.

Dr Martin Stoelen speaks about the completion of initial field tests of his raspberry harvesting system.

Learn more about the raspberry harvesting robotic system

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

The University of Plymouth is proud to be supported by the European Regional Development Fund. As one stream of funding under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014–2020, the ERDF focuses on smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. 

The main priorities involve contributions to research and innovation, supporting and promoting small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), and the creation of a low carbon economy.