Fruit pickers that can fly, pick fruit and put the fruit in a container on an autonomous platform that also powers the flying fruit pickers.
Tevel Aerobotics Technologies from Israel is developing flying autonomous robots used for picking various types of fruits, including apples, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, citrus and avocado. The start-up is also working on thinning and pruning functionalities.
A photo of picking apples during the last season. “We picked fruit from heights of 4 to 5 metres where the orchard wasn’t trimmed.” Photo: Tevel
According to Jewish business News, Tevel’s CEO and founder Yaniv Maor first got the idea for harvesting robots about 10 years ago while watching a news report on television about how Israel was suffering from a labour shortage in agriculture. Young Israelis were offered a considerable sum of money to work in orchards, yet none of them lasted even a full day because they all found the work too difficult. Yaniv already wanted to do something about this problem 10 years ago, but the technology needed to realise his ideas did not exist at the time – until 3 years ago: “I was thinking about how to solve these problems in a cost-effective way and thought: why not have flying robots?” he says. The experienced computer and systems engineer then started designing and building harvest drones and tested them with the oranges in his own backyard. And now, 4 years after founding Tevel (named after his daughter) in October 2016, he holds 8 patents on the robots and their applications.
Autonomous platform roaming orchards
The idea consists of autonomous platforms that each serve as a hub for up to 6 harvesting drones. The platforms navigate through the orchards and provide the power and computing/processing power to the quadcopter drones that are connected to the platform via a central cable. For their navigation, the platforms are guided by a harvesting plan defined in command and control software.
Each drone is equipped with a gentle gripper and several neural networks are responsible for detecting the fruit, for data fusion of the fruit’s position and their quality from different angles, fruit targeting, foliage and fruit calculations, ripeness measurements and for calculating the trajectory and manoeuvres through the foliage to the fruit as well as pulling or cutting the fruit from the tree. Once picked, the fruit is placed in a container on the platform and as soon as a container is full, it is automatically swapped for a new container.
6 degrees of freedom
According to Tevel, their robots have 6 degrees of freedom whereas alternatives have only 3. This leads them to be able to pick over 90% of all fruit from trees, to support many types of fruit, to pick from thick and thin trees and it enables growers to increase tree heights by 20% and thus generate additional yield. Although the company doesn’t want to name a price for the robots yet, it is claiming a return on investment within just 3 weeks.