Ripe Robotics, an Australian company, has recently started commercial trials with the third generation of its automated fruit harvester. The company was founded two years ago. “We were looking for problems that could be solved with new technology, but hadn’t been solved yet”, co-founder Hunter Jay says. “Fruit picking was among the clearest of those. Computer technology got to the point where it could recognize fruit and tell how ripe it is. Field robotics were getting cheaper. We thought we could combine this to develop a machine that could pick fruit fully automatically.”
The company has developed its latest robot Eve for trials in the Goulburn Valley and Griffith. “After our proof of concept and our second test robot, called Clive, we are now in the stage of further improving Eve, the robot that will be commercial. We think we have the right design”, Jay says.
The new robot has its own electric drive system and can crawl easily down a row of fruit trees. A camera takes pictures of the trees, which allows Eve to assess if the fruit is ripe. “We check from all different angles”, Jay emphasizes.
With more data going through its deep neural network, Eve will get even better in time. Jay: “We have a person monitoring Eve all the time. If she is not sure what to decide, this person will tell her what to do. Eve remembers this and should be able to do the same thing by herself next time.”
Ripe Robotics’ latest robot is capable of picking apples and oranges. It works with a suction tube that goes all the way into the bin. So far it has been picking the apple varieties Pink Lady, Gala, Granny Smith and Modi.
Jay told futurefarming.com that the trials are going well. “We‘ve been able to build a machine that can pick fruit without bruising. It can reach all the fruit in the trees. We‘ve done our trials with apples successfully and are now moving into oranges in a month or two. But we have been picking plums and stone fruit too.”