Oct 26, 2018
The new robotic design named “Robo-Dog” from React Robotics, London, can carry fruit to the packhouse from the field saving on precious labour time. The makers of a new “robo-dog” that carries fruit hope it will be ready for the 2020 harvest season.
The canine- bot can hold pallets of fruit deposited by pickers saving time spent by workers carrying produce to the packhouse.
Gregory Epps, CEO of React Robotics, said around 20 per cent of labour time in the field is currently spent carrying produce, which could be better spent picking.
The dog-bot, on display at the National Fruit Show, is capable of carrying up to 20kg depending on its speed, and could operate in “packs” across orchards and fields in the future, delivering fruit to the packhouse.
Epps said: “The idea was to build an automatic vehicle that can go the same places that people can go, upstairs, past objects and obstacles. So legs are better than wheels for that.”
Epps says he was motivated to apply his robotics and machinery background after recognizing the severe labour shortages in fresh produce production.
“We built it in response to the lack of labour in the market. Over the last few years there’s been around 20 per cent reduction for soft fruit pickers mainly. I saw the lack of labour in agriculture as being much more severe than other industries.”
He says the model took two years to build, while the bot’s artificial intelligence, which will be able to learn how to negotiate farm terrain, was a harder task, taking five years.
Epps is optimistic that they can bring the robot to market in 2020, with more trials next year. He said it would be affordable to growers through a rental purchase, leasing it for a harvest season.
“You have to build something that runs at the same speed as workers and costs the same, otherwise no one is going to buy it,” Epps said.