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FEROX project aims to improve working conditions of wild berry pickers

Published on 8.9.2023
Tampere University
FEROX researchers exploring the test site in Eastern Finland. Photo: Paul Chippendale.
In Finnish forests lies a huge wild berry treasure of which annually only 10 % is harvested. It makes sense and would be economically profitable to recover an increasing share of the berry harvest. However, wild berry picking is a slow and time-consuming craft and most of the professional pickers are foreign seasonal workers who do not speak Finnish and are not familiar with local culture or nature. Now a team of international researchers utilise AI, data, and robotics to improve the working conditions of pickers and make picking more efficient.

The Horizon Europe funded Fostering and Enabling AI, Data, and Robotics Technologies for Supporting Human Workers in Harvesting Wild Food (FEROX)  project will employ autonomous drones equipped with various sensors to acquire data and build 3D models of the forests. The collected data will be used to build AI models to help pickers accurately estimate berries’ locations, amount, and types.

“In addition, FEROX will provide wild berry pickers with navigation and locating services and physical support such as heavy lift drones for picking up buckets. This improves their working conditions and boosts their trust and confidence,” says Ines Robles, a researcher at Tampere University.

The project outcome will open business opportunities for European companies to adapt the solutions developed for industrial agriculture and to support global sustainability as technology providers for safe and sustainable berry harvesting.

FAST-Lab responsible for the technical development

Future Automation Systems & Technologies Laboratory (FAST-Lab) research group at Tampere University is a FEROX partner contributing to the requirements collection, architecture and design of software systems, leading the activities dealing with core development and adaptation, and contributing to the fleet management system development, among other tasks.

 “Introducing and using advancements in AI, data, and robotics in a field historically devoid of it will effectively improve the wild berry picking operations and the pickers’ working conditions in general. This coupled with the vast amount of untapped potential in Finnish forests, as well as other central and Nordic European countries, presents a great opportunity to have a more economically viable and socially and ecologically sustainable berry harvesting,” says Professor Jose L. Martinez Lastra, the head of FAST-Lab.

In the three-year FEROX project that started in September 2022, Tampere University is teaming with partners made up of different universities, research institutions, and SMEs from seven different countries, as well as the Finnish regional association for Non-Wood Forest Products (Arktiset Aromit) and the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute (Maanmittauslaitos). 

For up-to-date information on FEROX project as well as other FAST-Lab’s research projects, please visit the website.