Jun 12, 2017Autonomous vehicle rolled out by Harvest CROO Robotics
Harvest CROO Robotics announced the introduction of their autonomous vehicle. This is a major step towards the completion of the Alpha Unit, which is expected to be picking strawberries in Florida next winter.
As part of Phase I of the National Science Foundation Grant, Harvest CROO Robotics is developing software and hardware tools. They include the vehicle’s GPS navigation system, LIDAR technology, and other camera and sensor features.
The mobile platform is a modified version of a Colby Harvest Pro Machine. With four-wheel steering, turning movement will be smooth and precise, providing a zero turning radius for greater maneuverability than a standard tractor. Special levelling hardware and software has been developed and added to allow the vehicle to compensate for varying bed heights.
The vehicle will carry 16 picking robots through the field and span 6 beds of plants, picking the four middle beds. The Harvest CROO machine is equipped with a dual GPS system. The Harvester uses both GPS systems to interpolate the position of the platform to be able to position the robots precisely over the plants.
“Having the machine navigate the fields autonomously is the culmination of years of work and prototyping,” said Bob Pitzer, Co-Founder and CTO of Harvest CROO. “It is very gratifying to see our team effort come to fruition.”
Harvest CROO Robotics continues to develop and test the latest technology for agricultural robotics. Using the proprietary vision system, all ripe berries will be harvested from the plants. The fruit will then be transferred up to the platform level of the machine using a series of conveyers. There, the packing module of the machine will perform a secondary inspection and grade the fruit. Depending on quality, it will either be packed into consumer units, diverted to process trays, or discarded. The use of this technology will improve the quality of the berries picked, reduce energy usage, and increase strawberry yields.
Ken Gardner, Harvest CROO’s Director of Autonomous Development, said, “Being part of creating the future of agriculture is what convinced me to leave my former position at Honeywell, where I worked on navigation for military aircraft. Here, we are changing the world, in a very positive way.”
In December, the National Science Foundation awarded a grant worth up to $1 million. Harvest CROO Robotics used part of these funds to bring several highly qualified and experienced individuals on board the project. Scott Jantz, Electrical Engineering Manager, said, “We all feel like we are part of something special.”
While fundraising for the project has been ongoing, the current investment round will likely be closed at the end of July, when field testing of the vehicle is completed. “We will possibly open a new investment round early next year, at a higher valuation.”, stated Gary Wishnatzki, Co-Founder. “The new unit price will reflect the successful deployment of the Alpha Unit, a key milestone.”