The path toward viable robotic harvesters has been a long one, but companies like Australia-based Ripe Robotics are making headway. Founder and CEO Hunter Jay says the latest iteration of their robotic apple picker is approaching the speed and efficiency of humans.
Jay… “It’s a machine which is sort of like a giant triangle. On the hypotenuse of that triangle you’ve got a few arms placed along it at an increasing height. The arms are facing into the tree, and they’ve each got a camera and their own compute on them. And then they use that camera and compute to find the fruit on the tree. They assess if it’s ripe; if it’s able to be picked. Then they do the calculations to work out how to move towards it. Then they reach into the tree and we use a suction cup to suck onto the fruit and twist it off the tree - twist and lift. And then the arm places it down on a conveyor belt that goes the full length of that hypotenuse, past all of the arms, and into a fruit bin at the end of the robot. It’s trying to be as simple as it possibly can be and still do the task. So we’ve got four arms up the length of the side; all four are the same. And the whole thing sits on its own base, sort of just like a car base sort of thing, which drives it around through the orchard.”
The unit is fully electric and carries a bin like a forklift. The company is testing the unit in Australian orchards this season.