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Seedy Pickers

This 3D Printed Robot Picks Strawberries Better than Humans

Picture of Hanna Watkin
by Hanna Watkin
Nov 22, 2017

Engineering company Octinion has created a strawberry picking robot with a 3D printed gripper. Wielding smart machine vision algorithms and a uniquely jointed arm, it picks strawberries better than humans. 

We’re now pretty used to the idea of robots being used in factories and the operating theater – but how about in the fields, picking fruit? A new robot design by Octinion, a Belgian engineering company, can pick strawberries almost as quickly as humans.

The robot uses a 3D printed gripper to snag the fruit. Ensuring the fruit remains undamaged was a key challenge and a difficult process for the team behind it. The solution lay in designing a soft hand that evenly spreads pressure over the fruit’s entire surface.

Octinion’s robot uses smart machine vision algorithms to determine when a strawberry is ripe and ready for picking. The 3D printed gripper then removes the fruit without bruising and damaging the berries.

We have developed a fully autonomous strawberry picking robot. It’s able to navigate autonomously with centimeter precision. Thanks to local beacons, no structural changes to a greenhouse are necessary,” CEO Tom Coen told Digital Trends.

Robot Pickers: Efficient Over Speed

Although the researchers were able to create a robot with a deftness of movement and gentle touch, the detection of the ripe strawberries also proved troublesome. Octinion trained a dedicated AI system that recognizes the optimal berries for picking.

The robot currently picks at a speed of one strawberry every five seconds, which is close to a human picker.” But while the speed is not quite bettering its human competition, the robot is acknowledged to extract the berries with greater care. That and it can theoretically operate 24/7.

A novel design challenge of the robotic gripper was that it needed to extract the strawberries without taking chunks of greenery from the plant with it. To solve the issue, Octinion developed a unique robotic arm that both stabilizes the gripper and pivots it 90 degrees. This motion releases the strawberry from the plant cleanly, improving its efficiency.

In the near future Octinion plans to teach the robot a few new tricks. Expect the likes of sorting and packaging the fruit, and even analysis including harvest predictions.

“Our robots will be picking strawberries for pilot partners in 2018,” Coen said. “We expect that we will have about 100 robots in greenhouses worldwide in 2019.”

License: The text of "This 3D Printed Robot Picks Strawberries Better than Humans" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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