The Japanese National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO), in collaboration with Ritsumeikan University and auto parts manufacturer DENSO Corp., has developed a prototype of a harvesting robot that can pick a fruit at the same speed as a person.
Japanese fruit tree industry has been experiencing a decreasing number of workers and the aging of the existing workers. NARO, Ritsumeikan University, and DENSO Corp. have been working together in the R&D project of automation technologies, agri-robots for orchards, and the optimal tree shapes for automated operations to realise the labor-saving cultivation system for orchards.
A prototype of an automated fruit harvesting robot for apples, Japanese pears, and Western pears in V-shaped trees has been developed. The robot prototype moves between the trees using Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) navigation and picks fruits with two robot arms. The harvested fruits are collected into the automated fruit storage system set on UGV.
When a container of the automated fruit storage system becomes full, it is replaced by an empty container while the robot continues harvesting. The prototype picks a fruit in approximately eleven seconds, which is about the same speed as a person, according to NARO.
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The project team has been developing optimal tree shapes and planting techniques for automated operations in fruit trees of nine kinds as citrus and apples. For example, dense planting techniques of V-shaped trees and trees of other forms.
The team also has engaged in the R&D of unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) for various usages and automated harvesting robots that work well with these tree shapes.
In this project, Ritsumeikan University developed software for fruit position detection using sensors and judging the ripening fruits. DENSO Corp. developed the hardware of the harvesting robot.