Good Fruit Grower

March 15

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Page 30 of 47 Good Fruit Grower MARCH 15, 2016 31 The research team integrated the vac- uum picker with a commercial robot arm and a 3D stereo sensor developed by Car- negie Mellon University, showing that the end-effector design is compatible with a robot arm. The team also determined that memory foam, with its preferred vis- coelastic properties, was the ideal mate- rial for decelerating apples upon exiting the vacuum tube without bruising them. The team also took the prelimi- nary step of commissioning a formal experiment across multiple cultivars to determine the effect of pulled stems on fruit decay in storage. Those apples are currently in controlled-atmosphere (CA) storage and will be evaluated alongside traditionally harvested fruit beginning in March. Abundant Robotics tested and evalu- ated the equipment at seven Washington orchards last fall, including McDougall and Sons, Chiawana Orchards, Yakima Valley Orchards and Matson Fruit. As part of those demonstrations, the Wash- ington Tree Fruit Research Commission collected 180 of the harvested apples, all Fujis, for evaluation. Seven apples were downgraded for bruising and 26 apples were culled, mostly for unanticipated punctures or cuts, Salisbury said. "Basically, what's causing these cuts is the vacuum system pulling in a twig or branch that then gets the apple," he said. "Even the bruises look like it's the same phenomenon, it just wasn't aggressive enough to cut it." Salisbury said he asked growers who attended the demonstrations about it and most indicated that the problem twigs could be pruned before harvest. Of the 180 apples evaluated, 86 percent would have packed as Washington extra fancy. Overall, the testing activities in 2015 found that the vision system and vacuum picker are capable of recognizing, localiz- ing and picking apples without bruising them. The two systems were able to work together to pick fruit at a picking rate of faster than one apple per second. The future In Australia, the researchers will be evaluating the system as a continuous picking machine, moving down the row and harvesting fruit, rather than parking it next to a tree to harvest fruit as they have in the past. They also aim to demon- strate whether the vision system can evaluate for ripeness based on color and are researching conveyance to determine how best the apples should travel to bins from the picker. Salisbury, who grew up in Richland, Washington, first approached the idea of developing a robotic harvester four years ago. The company aims to have the prod- uct commercially available in the fall of 2018, though Salisbury stressed that was an extremely tentative date. "We need to make sure that limitations are set properly, that we're prepared to deliver what we're talking about," he said. Steere agreed. "A lot of people have made aggressive claims about what robotics can do in agriculture," he said. "We don't want to be one of the groups that claims more than we can deliver." That rollout — whether the equipment will be available for purchase or lease to growers, offered as part of a harvest ser- vice or some other option altogether — and the cost to growers also have not yet been determined, Salisbury said. • Distribution wheels are located inside the aluminum head. They act to slow down the apples after they leave the hoses, laying them on the distributor. Next, Brown changed the distributor speed to be independent of wheel speed. In the first model, running speed and vehicle speed were fixed in a 2:1 ratio. "When the wheel speed would increase, so would the distribution head speed, which increased bruising because it wouldn't lay them in gently enough," he said. Instead of metal buckets on the front end, Brown now uses plastic ones. "They are not fixed on the end of the hose," he said. "Now, they pivot so there is no strain on the workers at all." He also replaced the harvester's 44-horsepower engine with a 60-horsepower model. More horses mean the harvester will be able to handle hills better as well as snow, extending its usage to year-round work, such as pruning, hand thinning, applying pheromones, trellising and picking. • PHOTO COURTESY PHIL BROWN WELDING Andrew Duffy, a Phil Brown Welding employee, demonstrates the DBR Conveyor's new pivoting, plastic bucket, designed to reduce worker strain.

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