2021 - Volume #45, Issue #1, Page #26[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
Robotic Sorter Helps Harvest In Orchard
“We built our first prototype in 2016 and our final improved version for use in 2020,” says Renfu Lu, agricultural engineer, Michigan State University. “The entire machine was designed to work with the sorting system. Our next goal is to incorporate multiple robotic arms to pick the apples, too.”
The current self-propelled harvester has room for 6 workers, 2 picking at ground level and 4 from adjustable height platforms on the harvester’s sides. As they pick, workers place apples on conveyor belts. In the case of ground level workers, conveyer arms controlled by the harvester operator follow them through the orchard. Conveyer access is designed for minimal body and hand movements.
The apples are carried to a computer-vision sorting system. Select apples are dropped into one bin, while lower quality apples are deposited in a second bin. Foam cushioned rollers catch and place individual apples, preventing them from bumping into other apples.
Working at a speed of up to 12 apples per second, the sorter is designed to match the picking speed of 6 workers. Sorting in the field, and eventual robotic picking, could significantly reduce apple grower costs. About half of grower production costs are tied up in picking and handling.
Mario VanDyke, Precise Manufacturing, worked with Lu to build the main chassis, steering and hydraulic systems. He notes that the harvester as it is now designed will not compete economically.
“A typical orchard would need to bring in multiple machines to get the apples harvested fast enough,” he says. “Currently, they can bring in 200 to 300 pickers at a time to get the job done.”
He sees the real potential for the harvester coming with the addition of robotic picking arms. Lu agrees.
“This is still an early stage,” says Lu. “In the next 3 to 5 years, we will have incorporated robotic picking.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Renfu Lu, 524 S. Shaw Lane, 224 Farrall Hall, East Lansing, Mich. 48824 (ph 517 432-8062 or 517 749-3044; email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).
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