Mango harvester ready for market

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In world first, locally-developed harvester will automatically identify and pick fruit

Mango harvester ready for market
An image of the fruit-picker in action during the trial

 

An automated mango harvester developed by CQUniversity is ready for commercial development after a prototype performed strongly in testing, researchers say.

Field trials of the first prototype in Yeppoon, Queensland, achieved a 75 per cent efficiency rate in automatically identifying and picking fruit in view.


Check out our story from last year about a scanning system that is helping to streamline fruit picking operations in South Australia


Mounted on a trailer and towed by a ute, the prototype harvester takes about five seconds to harvest a fruit, from detection to placement.

The next phase of research will investigate options for it to be mounted on a terrestrial drone to operate autonomously, at faster speeds and higher accuracies.

CQUniversity Professor Kerry Walsh says the aim is now to improve its performance to harvest over 90 per cent of fruit in view, to increase speed and to refine its construction in order to reduce cost.

"The harvester is part of an integrated system which will ensure farmers know exactly how many fruit are on their trees, when they will be in perfect condition for the consumer, and when to employ the right number of people for picking and packing," he says.

 "The auto-harvester has the potential to solve some of the major labour force issues that currently limit the industry."

 "The end goal is to save costs and improve productivity on farm, while driving consumer demand by ensuring a top-quality eating experience every time," he says.

Professor Walsh’s team has previously delivered to industry a near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) measurement system to assess the eating quality of mangos and predict the ideal harvest time – with those sensors and the Fruitmaps app now widely adopted within the mango industry.

This laid the foundation for CQUni to research in-field machine vision systems to count fruit and estimate fruit size, for fruit load estimates before harvest, allowing farmers to better plan their harvest.  

"The next step on from that, having ‘seen’ the fruit, was to try to reach out to pick the fruit to automate the harvest," Walsh says.

"Both harvest estimates and autoharvest works best deployed in small tree-high density orchards, so this work complements the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Food’s work on such orchard designs."

The equipment was developed as part of a RND4Profit Commonwealth-funded research project led by an industry research and development corporation, Horticulture Innovation (Multiscale Monitoring of Tropical Fruit Trees, led by University of New England).

Ian Groves, who hosted the first field trials of the prototype auto-harvester at Groves Grown Fruit, Yeppoon, said he was excited by the "game-changing" potential of the technology.

"The machinery identifying and counting fruit in the orchard turned out to be within just a few per cent of the actual number of fruit in the entire block last year," Groves says.

"That technology is also able to measure the size range of that fruit and so knowing how much fruit is in that block, knowing when it’s going to be mature and knowing the size of the fruit, means we can schedule our workforce, order the right number of cartons, the size of the inserts going into those cartons – this could be a real game changer, not only for our farm but for the entire industry."

See the video below of the fruit picker in action, supplied by CQUni. Please note sound kicks in at 2:10 mark. 

 

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