Agency: USDA NIFA
Karkee, M.*; Whiting, M.; Zhang, Q.
Traditional apple harvesting requires a large, semi-skilled workforce for a short time. Shake-and-catch technology has been successful in harvesting fruit for the processing market, but no commercial success has been achieved in harvesting fresh market apples because of fruit damage. Lack of such technology is a crucial problem for the industry because the cost of manual labor is increasing and labor availability is increasingly uncertain. In this project, we aim to develop a fresh-market apple harvesting technology to reduce dependence on seasonal labor. Research methods include identification of mechanisms for localized shaking and catching, and their integration and evaluation in commercial orchards. First, we will study the effects of different combinations of shaking pattern, amplitude and frequency in fruit removal efficiency. Second, various fruit catching, deceleration and singulation mechanisms will be evaluated to maximize fruit collection and minimize damage. In addition, strategies for tree training, pruning and thinning will be studied to improve the ease of catching surface insertion into tree canopies. Overall, our system will minimize the impact force between fruit and catching surface and lessen fruit-to-fruit contact, the two primary causes of fruit damage.