California-based Ag Pro Robotics launched a semi-autonomous strawberry harvesting robot called StrawBot. The machine is designed to support human strawberry pickers by autonomously following them through the field during harvesting, carrying the full baskets of strawberries to the end of each row.
StrawBot supports human berry harvesters
Strawberry harvesting is a difficult task, and there have been many attempts to develop an autonomous strawberry picking robot, yet no company has perfected this process. It is difficult to both identify ripe berries and to pick them without damaging the fragile fruit. Ag Pro Robotics is taking a different tack with the StrawBot. The vision is to automate the task of collecting full strawberry trays from the human workers and deliver the full trays to the end of row collection points.
“StrawBot eliminates all the walking human pickers have to do,” said Raleigh Nielsen co-founder, CTO and motion control specialist for Ag Pro Robotics. “It keeps the human pickers picking – and that’s enough to yield substantial cost savings.”
According to Nielsen, StrawBot provides farmers with labor cost savings of roughly 18-35%. It also enables pickers to cover 15-20% more ground. For strawberry fields that are several hundreds of thousands of acres, this increase in harvested acreage is considerable.
The StrawBot robot eliminates the non-productive work of carrying full trays out of the aisles, and enables the human pickers to be more productive at the delicate task of picking berries. StrawBot tracks the berry pickers along the aisle and paces itself to stay close to the pickers.
“But perhaps one of the biggest benefits to StrawBot is the fact that it still allows human workers to do their job as they’ve always done it,” said Nielsen. “It doesn’t change how the planters plant or the harvesters harvest. It just makes them more efficient.”
The StrawBot chassis is adjustable to accommodate 48-, 52- and 64-inch bed widths and is available in two and four harvester sizes. The vehicle is all electric and can even be equipped with an optional solar panel to help recharge the battery during the work day. This option can extend the working time of the machine.
In addition to improving annual harvests, GPS navigation, camera systems, data analysis and other automation technologies also enable new levels of traceability for farmers. This data helps the farmer to make better decisions about how to manage production and harvesting.
StrawBot is a new design for agriculture automation that seeks to make human farm labor more productive rather than directly replacing labor. Strawberry picking remains one of the more difficult tasks to automate, yet StrawBot offers a solution that can be the difference between profitability and loss for farmers. StrawBot boosts productivity up to 35%, according to Ag Pro Robotics.
There are several companies pursuing this market for collaborative agriculture robots. Burro is another company (based in Salinas, California) who are developing an autonomous, load hauling, agriculture support robot. Like StawBot, Burro will both follow a human worker, as well as drive loads across the farm to deliver items. Unlike StrawBot, Burro is not currently designed to fit into the strawberry field row spacing. Another company also in this market is Future Acres, with their autonomous mobile robot: Carry. The Carry robot is a general purpose autonomous transport for the farm. It is capable of following a worker around, or traversing autonomously on the farm to different locations for pickup and delivery tasks.