The InsightTRAC Rover is the winner of the Ag Robot Of The Year 2023. The robot literally shoots Navel Orange worm-infested nuts, called mummies, from almond orchards. Behind the development of this genius robot is Anna Haldewang. We asked her nine questions.
1. Who is Anna Haldewang?
I graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design majoring in Industrial Design. I created a pollinating drone for a class project and the design concept ended up going viral across media worldwide. Right after college, I founded my first company, Plan Bee and targeted the almond industry as they rely on bees to pollinate their crops. I got to know the growers and learned about a greater pain point in winter sanitation that no one was paying attention to so I pivoted the company in 2019 and we’ve been in development since!
2. Where did the genius idea come from to shoot worm-infected nuts out of trees? It’s not the first solution you think of, is it?
When I learned about winter sanitation, I set out to create a product that doesn’t rely on weather or manual labor to achieve the industry standard of less than 2 mummies per tree. I then went to Australia as they were the first up for the winter sanitation season. I tested out a limb shaker which was made out of a drill, a water jet, air jet and an airsoft gun. The airsoft gun was the most effective at removing!
3. How do growers normally deal with or remove the infected nuts?
During the winter season, growers will come through with shakers but this only works during a fog or after a rain when mummies are heavy. They can’t remove them on a dry, sunshine day. If they get too much rain, growers can’t get the shakers in at all. As a last resort, growers have to hire poler’s to come in with 15-foot bamboo sticks to hit and poke each of these mummies out of the trees. It’s very laborious and nobody wants to do the job.
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4. What was technically the biggest obstacle to making the robot work?
The biggest obstacle would have to be the vision system. The team did a great job at developing the product to be able to accurately target and remove up to 30 feet away. We’re on the cutting edge of technologies capabilities and the cameras we use today were not available to us one year ago.
5. What is the current status of the InsightTRAC Rover? Is there much interest from almond growers?
We are currently in development and look forward to delivering Rover’s soon to growers in the near future!
6. What is the environmental benefit when an almond farmer applies the InsightTRAC robot?
A couple benefits on the environmental impact. Our pellets are fully bio-degradable and will disappear in a couple years time into the soil. Our Rover has batteries onboard that run for a few hours and when they run low an onboard generator will kick on and recharge the batteries for 30 minutes and then shut itself off. This way, we’re saving on emissions by using batteries the majority of the time. It can go 2 days straight before the hopper needs more pellets and more diesel in the tank. There’s a few cost savings by having batteries onboard and not using diesel the whole time but there are many variables involved in how often the grower operates the Rover and how many mummies they have, infestation levels, etc. A grower could save anywhere from $100/acre to $1,000/acre. Many variables at play!
7. Is the principle of shooting pallets perhaps suitable for other applications?
We could shift the vision system and pellet removal into other crops that would need similar applications. The Rover is very robust and has the capability to push, tow and monitor crops in the future.
Our vision for the Rover is to be in the orchard 24/7, 365 days a year performing a role for the grower every season.
8. The world of startups and early-stage robot makers is very tough. Can you survive independently you think?
We’re starting to see large-scale companies partner with startups. Especially as so many startups are in niche areas we’ll need to work together and create a more solid and stable foundation for these smaller businesses to thrive.
9. Were you already approached by a major machinery or tractor manufacturer who wants to invest in or acquire you?
We’ve had some interest, yes.