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Robotic harvester cream of the crop

Wednesday, 3 August 2011 | By Michelle Hammond
Robotic harvesterQueensland farmer Ray Daniels has invented a robotic harvester capable of picking and sorting strawberries, which he hopes will eliminate hand-picking from his business altogether.

 

Along with business partner and agricultural engineer Rudi Bartels, Daniels has developed a mechanised harvesting system, complete with a mounted “seeing” robot.

 

The robot moves up and down the sides of growing trays stacked in a vertical, rotating system in a hydroponic shed. It scans the berries for ripeness, picks them, and then grades and sorts them.

 

Down the track, Daniels and Bartels hope to be able to integrate packing into the process, which would reduce their original labour costs by 95%.

 

Bartels says while tree-shakers and other mechanised harvesting tools are commonplace among grape and citrus growers, no one has yet invented a successful mechanical shortcut for picking strawberries.

 

“We are taking something that is already capital-intensive and increasing that intensity but at the same time significantly reducing the production costs and taking the risks of production away for a consistent crop,” Bartels says.

 

As the agricultural industry begins to embrace technology more readily, are there other business opportunities to sink your teeth into?