Good Fruit Grower

November 2016

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14 NOVEMBER 2016 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Pneumatic air-controlled gripper may lend itself to robotic fruit harvest. by Ross Courtney O ne of the sticking points in the quest for automated fruit harvesters is how to handle fruit without damaging it. So far, nothing the robotic world has invented can compare to the finesse of the human hand. The engineers at Soft Robotics, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, automation company, believe they are close, though. They make robotic grippers with fingers actuated by compressed air to gently curl around fruit and produce. They planned to test how it works picking apples from a tree this fall during a trial at the Washington State University's Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser. "We're confident that with the gripper that we've got the right tool for the job," said Dan Harburg, director of business development for Soft Robotics. For more than three years, Washington State University researchers have been working to develop a robotic hand that could harvest apples. Manoj Karkee, associate professor of the university's Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems, said he and his colleagues have developed a three-fin - gered mechanical prototype that works, but probably not as fast as Soft Robotics' air-powered version. "They have the advantage of speed," Karkee said, but he said he is eager for more studies to see how fast the Soft Robotics version moves in the orchards. The university's robotic hand, mounted to a Gator, harvests about 85 percent of the apples at a rate between 5 and 6 seconds per apple. Karkee's goal is 2 to 3 seconds per apple, he said. Later this season, Soft Robotics planned to visit Karkee for trials of the rubber gripper in Washington orchards to see Gentle touch New Technology Dan Harburg ©2016 Meadow Creature, LLC MeadowCreature.Com ® Or Give Us a Call 360-329-2250 MAKE CIDER WITH EASE - - MEADOW CREATURE ® Commercial quality at a family price–the AVALON ® Providing growing supplies for over 25 years. SHADE, WIND, HAIL FABRICS AND STRUCTURE DESIGN • ASK US ABOUT OUR DIFFERENT FABRIC OPTIONS THAT PROVIDE KEY BENEFITS TO YOUR ORCHARD • LET US HELP YOU WITH THE STRUCTURE. YAKIMA VALLEY CALIFORNIA Steve Kuhn 509-728-1929 YAKIMA VALLEY OREGON/MEXICO Juan Pinon 509-728-1339 WENATCHEE / BASIN WESTERN WASHINGTON Bill Johnson 509-728-0664 CALIFORNIA Chris Siems 507-301-5106 Aaron Sherer 805-550-2022 PASCO/HORSE HEAVEN Matt Blevins 509-728-0570

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