Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Europeans designing robots to harvest delicate fruits; Japan already has a strawberry picker

What would happen if human weren't in the field any more to pick the most delicate of crops -- fruits in orchards or the grapes for premium wine? You know, the high-value stuff. And, let's go one more, what if humans were removed one more step: What if something could target the protective pesticide spray so it only touched the foliage and never once touched the fruit? That's be kind of amazing. No, that'd be a robot. And it's a new project that’s part of the European Union Seventh Framework Program (FP7) called Clever Robots for Crops, or "cRops."

According to Forbes magazine contributing writer Jennifer Hicks, these robots will be able to detect the fruit's ripeness, then grasp and softly detach only ripe fruit. The robots would also be able to reliably detect and classify obstacles and other objects to enable successful navigation and operation in plantations and forests. "Projects like cRrops are significant because they can accelerate sustainable development of agriculture," said Catherine Simon, founder and organizer of Innorobo, a robotics conference set for 2013.

Hicks' sources say it will take at least five more years before the whole thing could be commercialized. So why is Europe moving so slowly? “One of the main reasons is simply because robotics is still in an early stage of maturity and we continue to see projects coming out of academia, government or EU commissions,” said Simon,“Europe needs to make the shift from projects to product faster like the United States if we want to remain a leader in the the field of robotics."

There are fruit-picking robots already. In Japan in 2010, the Institute of Agricultural Machinery’s Bio-oriented Technology Research Advancement Institution created a strawberry picking robot with a stereo camera system that images the strawberries in 3D and, with fancy math, determines their ripeness. "If a strawberry is at least 80 percent red, the machine snips it at the stem and puts it in a padded bin. It can harvest 60 percent of the strawberry crop, taking only nine seconds to pick a strawberry," writes Hicks. Used to be this was all academic -- funding, that is, but "times are changing," she reports, and things could go a lot faster. "We are starting to see a true shift in the ecosystem surrounding robotics." Think Google money. Think big. (Read more)

No comments: