WSU Fruit Picking Robot
Washington State University wins a major federal grant to develop fruit harvesting technology about how humans and robots might work side-by-side.
It's cutting edge technology, and it could really change the face of fruit picking as we know it today.
The $548, 000 grant will be used by a team of scientists to study the picking process, and how robot technology might make fruit harvesting by humans a thing of the past.
Associate Professor Dr. Manoj Karkee and his team are studying how to detach fruit from a tree, what types of apples would be best suited to a robotic system, how much pressure to put on a fruit with out damaging it, and a multitude of other factors.
Using math, complex algorithms and cameras... wind, rain, and pressure are all considered to develop - ultimately - a robotic arm to pick fruit.
The team has completed the first year of preliminary investigation and Karkee says he hopes to complete much of the research in the next three years.
He also says growers are keen on this technology because it favors a predictable number of skilled workers, while the government sees a decrease in immigrant labor.
"We'll have 12 months, long term, higher paying more high skilled jobs, on a reduced scale. And we'll have better communities and better economic benefits for both growers and government... I don't see a downside here."
He says he expects his team to develop a prototype robotic arm within the next five years. That arm would mimic the human arm, be more efficient, and do less damage to fruit.
The funding will help offset the cost of the motion sensitive laser camera equipment, and computers, as well as salaries for three WSU PhD students.