Is Your Apple Orchard Robot Ready?
Many reports on adopting robotic harvesters for apple harvesting have been encouraging in recent years, writes Kenong Xu on GrowingProduce.com. Replacing human pickers with robotic fruit harvesters would be a dream come true for apple growers. However, how long will it take to make the dream a reality? Depending upon who you ask, the answers can vary from as few as one to two years to as many as 10 to 20 years from now.
The prototypes of robotic apple harvesters developed by Fresh Fruit Robotics (FFRobotics) and those by Abundant Robotics appear to be the most advanced ones in the robotic field. Currently, they are being tested in commercial orchards in Washington State and elsewhere. The system by FFRobotics has multiple robotic arms; each arm has three-fingered grips to grab fruit. The machine could pick up to 10,000 apples an hour. The robotic picker by Abundant Robotics uses a vacuum to suck apples off trees at one fruit per second.
The advanced sensing and detection technologies are integrated into these robotic systems, making them remarkably accurate in fruit detection. However, the robots only can pick the fruit directly accessible to them. They are not able to go around obstacles that block the fruit from being reached, such as trellis wires and old branches. In addition, the robotic systems may cause high damage or dropping rates when picking fruit clusters.