Good Fruit Grower

November 2016

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36 NOVEMBER 2016 GOOD FRUIT GROWER A vacuum apple harvester under development by a California company has shown it can see the apples, pick them from the tree and do so without causing signifi cant damage to either at a picking rate of faster than one apple per second. Now that researchers have proven the technology works, their focus is to engineer a machine that will operate effectively in today's orchards and can be easily integrated with other orchard sys- tems. Their goal: have the fi rst machines available for commercial use in 2018. "There's a lot of work to be done to build the product, but there comes a time in research and development where you switch from technology research to good producing engineering, and we've reached that point," Abundant Robotics CEO Dan Steere told Good Fruit Grower. "We recognize it needs to lower the cost per pick, and we expect this will do so substantially." Researchers at Abundant Robotics, a spinoff of SRI International, began work to develop an automated harvester three years ago, with trips to orchards in Washington state and the Southern Hemisphere to test their prototypes during harvest. In trials last year, they found that the vision system and vacuum picker were capable of recognizing, localizing and picking apples without bruising them, at a picking rate of faster than one apple per second. However, the machine remained parked, picking in place, the optical sensor showed room for improvement, and the machine's workspace needed to be expanded to reach more of the canopy. Multiple changes to hardware and software in the ensuing months resulted Pushing their pluck Creators of vacuum harvester aim to have machines ready for growers in 2018 by Shannon Dininny photos by TJ Mullinax Dan Steere, left, and Curt Salisbury, co-founders of Abundant Robotics Inc. PLAY See the Abundant Robotics automatics harvester in action at

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