Intelligent Robots Could Manage Peach Orchards to Help Reduce Costs
Georgia is known for its peaches, and over 130 million pounds of the delicious fruit are grown annually, which has an estimated value of over $70 million.
On the other hand, cultivating those peaches is a manually intensive and time-consuming process, which has strained farmers for time and workers. To help with those problems, engineers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute have designed an intelligent robot that can thin and prune those peach trees.
The robot is outfitted with a LiDAR remote sensing system to determine distances and a GPS unit to help the robot navigate through peach orchards and overcome obstacles. Once the robot gets to a tree, it then uses a 3D camera to determine if the peaches are ripe, then uses a robotic arm with a shearing tool end effector to harvest the fruit.
This setup enables the robot to complete two tasks — thinning and pruning. Tree pruning involves removing dead or unhealthy branches before the spring growing season begins. The thinning process involves removing small or underdeveloped peaches so the others can grow big and healthy.
While there are robots that can handle large farms that grow wheat, corn, or a mixture of produce, orchards are a different story, and no two trees are ever the same. This makes it difficult for agricultural robots to harvest the fruit.
Current efforts to automate the harvest have not been successful, at least on large scales, but GTRI’s robot could change how orchard farming is done to save both time and costs. This would also be especially beneficial for farms that have struggled to grow trees that are resilient to changing environmental conditions.