FEROX: Fostering and Enabling AI, Data and Robotics Technologies for Supporting Human Workers in Harvesting Wild Food
Wild berries and mushrooms are considered to be a national treasure of Nordic countries. These food products require zero resources to cultivate as they grow naturally in the forests. It is estimated that less than 10% of the total annual wild berry crop is harvested from the forests. The main challenge in collecting wild berries (bilberries, raspberries, lingonberries, cloudberry,...) lies in the manual forest harvesting namely pickers’ working conditions - berries are often in places that are difficult to reach. Due to the short season, the majority of the work is conducted by foreigners with limited knowledge of the language, culture and forests. The FEROX project aims to utilize advances in AI, data, and robotics to improve the working conditions of the wild berry pickers.
The project will employ autonomous drones equipped with various sensors to acquire data, build 3D models of the forests and, therefore, accurately estimate berries’ locations, amount and types. The collected data will be used to build AI models to help workers locate the berries and optimize their operations. In addition, FEROX will provide wild berry pickers with navigation and locating services and physical support to improve their working conditions and boost their trust and confidence. The holistic solution of FEROX will contribute to the overall safety of the workers by automatically monitoring the pickers and providing aid where it is needed. As a consequence, FEROX is expected to attract locals and hiking enthusiasts to work during summer in collecting wild products, hence, increasing the overall yield of the wild berries. These outcomes will open business opportunities for EU companies to adapt the solutions developed for industrialized cultivation as well as support global sustainability as technology providers for safe and sustainable berry harvesting.
To demonstrate the solution, FEROX will conduct its tests in the forests in Finland with the support of the wild berries and mushroom ‘Arktiset Aromit’ (Arctic Flavours) Association. Finland has universal rights which allow everyone to move freely around the countryside, to pick berries and mushrooms without permits. Any money made from the sale of this natural product is exempt from tax. The income from picking berries is a significant income for many households in eastern and northern Finland, and for the pickers from abroad.