The broader impact/commercial potential of this project will address the ability to use automation to harvest strawberries in the United States in an environment where migrant labor is scarce and the work is undesirable. The project is borrowing techniques and methods that have been used and refined in many other high volume manufacturing/production industries and applying the applicable ideas to harvesting food crops with automated machines. Big data methods are also being developed in conjunction with the acquisition techniques that will assist crop growing with predictive information about future yields and help with monitoring plant health in relation to disease and pest infestation. The business model being developed helps the adoption of the technology into the farming community by not requiring the farmers to have large capital outlays by providing the anticipated machines to the farmers as a service to replace their labor. The initiation of the service will therefore be an easy decision for a farmer to make and will be helpful in establishing the standard for future harvesting models and techniques.
This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project is developing techniques and ideas to be able to accomplish the robotic harvesting of some of the most labor intensive and delicate fruit. Special machine vision techniques are being utilized to be able to simultaneously detect, decipher and target the fruit at a speeds conducive to commercial harvesting. Also, unique machine techniques that will enable the harvesting of the fruit without bruising. Objectives include experimenting with ideas that will lead to more consistent fruit packing and techniques to increase fruit shelf life after picking. Most prior research in these areas focused on being able to pick the fruit with machines and not so much on the ability to do it at commercial speeds. The entire purpose of the systems of the Harvest CROO is to rapidly acquire the fruit under the plants and then be able to pack and carry it out of the fields. Many of the projects until this point had no allotment for removing the fruit from the fields. The Harvest CROO system will establish standards for this.