A new fruit-picking robot aims to outperform traditional robots and enhance productivity across a range of commercial food functions, from the field to the warehouse.
While robot technology has been around for a while, United Kingdom-based product design and development company Cambridge Consultants has offered a “robotics breakthrough” in the form of a robot taking on complex picking and sorting tasks.
The so-called Robocrop can sort fruits and vegetables, and even pick out the weeds among plants.
Chris Roberts, industrial robotics head at Cambridge Consultants, cited the difficulty of traditional robots in “adapting to deal with uncertainty.”
Their new design aimed to “disrupt the industry” is said to be a mix of existing technologies and new signal processing techniques.
According to Roberts, their company’s industrial sensing and control team combined potent image-processing algorithm with low-cost sensors and commodity hardware to lead to “soft” robot control when tasks – such as recognizing and picking different items like fruits – are not rigidly defined.
The robot system is touted capable of handling items for which no detailed model of computer-aided design (CAD) exists – “a necessary step to using a robot with natural objects which, although they share some characteristics, are not identical.”
In their robot demonstration, Cambridge Consultants had a random stack of fruit in a bowl, in which the robot used machine vision and smart software to identify the fruit on top.
Part of the technology is the custom-made hand working around the shape of the fruit and gripping it properly without causing damage. The robot can also sort the fruit by color, such as sorting red from green apples.
These functions are highlighted in contrast with traditional robots’ difficulty in performing varying tasks. For example, robots in car production lines can transfer heavy metal parts with sub-millimeter accuracy – a simple goal for the robots and the computers behind them since they are dealing with identical parts and fixed positions.
“The robot system demonstrates what is possible when you bring together experts from different fields to solve a problem,” said Roberts, highlighting that the Robocrop is the product of programming, electronics, and mechanical engineering focused on different industrial and commercial uses.
The U.K. firm will provide a demonstration of the robot technology at the Electronic Design Show, to be held at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Oct. 21 to 22. It will also have an exhibit at AgriTechnica at the Messegelände in Hanover, Germany on Nov. 10 to 14.