Autonomous Robot Highways in the Soft Fruit Sector

Posted on Wednesday, October 21, 2020


The Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue Project on AI for Healthy Humans and Environments at the AI + Society Initiative presents,
in collaboration with the Centre for Law, Technology and Society, the Institute for Science, Society and Policy and the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics:


Autonomous Robot Highways in the Soft Fruit Sector

The views of UK growers and workers


David Christian Rose


Wednesday, October 21, 2020
at 12:00 ET


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Faced with a serious migrant labour shortage due to the dual threat of COVID-19 and Brexit, UK soft fruit growers are considering alternative strategies to perform the required work. The “Robot Highways” project, a consortium led by Saga Robotics, involving the Universities of Lincoln and Reading, BT, Berry Gardens Growers, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, and Clockhouse Farm, will create the largest known global demonstration of robotics and autonomous systems technology that fuse multiple application technologies across a single farming system. As well as demonstrating the technology, the project will undertake an economic evaluation to assess its value for growers.

We know, however, that technologies associated with the fourth agricultural revolution, such as AI and robotics, present a number of social and ethical challenges in addition to their promised benefits. Though the rise of autonomous robotics in farming presents opportunities for a new type of technically skilled worker, plugs potential shortfalls in labour, and may lead to productivity and environmental gains, some people may lose out. For example, the use of autonomous robots may lead to job losses for some workers, as well as presenting safety concerns for those workers expected to work alongside robots in the field or members of the public accessing farmland, plus a number of other concerns, including data ownership, cybersecurity, and lack of reliability.

At the University of Reading, we are undertaking a quick scoping review for relevant literature on user perceptions of autonomous robots as a means to design empirical work to elucidate the views of growers and workers. This seminar provides an overview of some of the major themes resulting from the literature review and poses questions about the practicality and ethics of conducting fieldwork with farm workers. We hope to gather these views as a way of improving the user-centred design of the technologies being developed by others in the consortium.


About the Speaker

Dr David Christian Rose is the Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension at the University of Reading, UK (ranked 9th in the 2019 and 2020 QS World Rankings for Agriculture and Forestry). His work explores technology adoption and behaviour change in farming, user-centred technology design, and the social and ethical impacts of the fourth agricultural revolution. He runs the ‘Change in Agriculture’ research group whose research topics can be found here.


This event will be in English only.
This event will be recorded.

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