Innovative Robot Can Pick and Sort Fruit

Cambridge Consultants, a specialist in product design and development, are leading the way to improved productivity throughout the food chain with their development of a fruit-picking robot.

This robot can perform complicated jobs such as picking and sorting irregular organic items like vegetables and fruits, or identifying cetain weeds in a crop field and removing them.

“Traditional robots struggle when it comes to adapting to deal with uncertainty,” said Chris Roberts, head of industrial robotics at Cambridge Consultants. “Our innovative blend of existing technologies and novel signal processing techniques has resulted in a radical new system design that is poised to disrupt the industry.”

Various industries have been using robot technology for quite a while, and traditional robots are typically designed to perform the same task multiple times effectively under a controlled environment. However, traditional robotic systems are not often able to execute varying tasks repeatedly, or work effectively within a changing environment.

One good example is the various tasks handled by robot systems in car production lines, such as transport of bulky metal components of hundreds of kilograms between different locations, with accuracies on the sub-millimetre scale. The robot systems, and the computers that manage them, can easily perform such tasks, as they need to handle only identical components and the positions remain the same.

Pick of the bunch

Conversely, picking and sorting vegetables and fruits in a warehouse is a task that traditional robot systems struggle to handle. Working around people, adapting to a varying environment, handling irregular items are the capabilities required for robots to successfully complete such complex tasks.

Several tasks need to be carried out in order for a robot to be capable of picking and sorting fruit. These  include identifying the correct items, computing the order in which to pick up the items, planning the grip, and lifting and positioning the objects.

“Our world-class industrial sensing and control team has combined high-powered image-processing algorithms with low-cost sensors and commodity hardware to allow ‘soft’ control of robots when the task is not rigidly defined,” said Roberts. “The system is capable of handling objects for which no detailed computer-aided design (CAD) model exists – a necessary step to using a robot with natural objects which, although they share some characteristics, are not identical.”

“Our demonstration of the technology has fruit stacked randomly in a bowl – with our robot using machine vision and some smart software to identify which piece of fruit is on top. It translates this information into real-world co-ordinates and positions the ‘hand’ to pick the required fruit, whilst avoiding other objects. The custom-made hand adapts to the shape of the fruit and securely grips it without damaging it. Once picked, the fruit can also be sorted by colour so that, for example, red apples can be separated from green apples.”

“The robot system demonstrates what is possible when you bring together experts from different fields to solve a problem. We’ve combined our programming, electronics and mechanical engineering expertise with our machine vision and robotics skills to demonstrate the kind of smart system that could transform a variety of industrial and commercial processes.”

The novel robotic technology will be exhibited by Cambridge Consultants at stand B5 of the Electronic Design Show, which will be conducted at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on October 21-22, 2015, and at stand F13 of AgriTechnica, which will be held at the Messegelände in Hanover, Germany, hall 15, on November 10 - 14, 2015.

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