Strawberry-picking robot: made in Europe
The Rubion robot developed by mechatronic startup Octinion uses photonic sensors to detect the wavelengths of light, or the ‘signatures’ given off from a ripe, red strawberry according to a pre-programmed set of characteristics. It then uses a patented ‘soft touch gripper’ to pick the strawberries, without doing any more damage to the fruits than a human would, without cutting or burning the stem.
It would take just 14 of these new robots less than 7 days to pick and package all the perfect, red, unblemished strawberries needed for Wimbledon, each Rubion bot picking and packaging between 180 and 360 kilograms of ripe strawberries every single day (at a rate of about one every 5 seconds).
To put this into perspective, depending on the skill and experience, an enthusiastic human picker can collect around 50 kilograms in a day but will need to take breaks, be prepared to work for very little and can be tempted to eat some of the sumptuous berries.
From beneath, the robot picks individual strawberries grown in raised bedding a few feet off the floor and can sort the fruits by size or weight and pack into punnets as it goes along.
For this development, R&D company Octinion was supported by the EU-backed ACTPHAST 4.0 photonics innovation incubator.
“The picking of soft fruits with machines has always been tricky given that they are so easy to get squashed and the sensitivity needed to discern whether a fruit was ripe or rotten, simply wasn’t there”, explained Octinion’s CEO and founder Dr Tom Coen.
“However, Rubion, our autonomous strawberry-picking robot is a novel way around this problem. It is comparable to a human in many ways: the robot only picks the finest fresh, red berries and will not bruise or hurt the strawberries in any way.”
The picking and sorting speeds are comparable to the ideal human picker but with advanced quality monitoring and the ability to work without a rest or a break, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The company argues that soon, its robots could address the lack of human pickers on farms all over the world, avoiding the wasteful rotting of unpicked fruits.
“Just like you know what a plump, juicy red strawberry looks like, Rubion can do this mathematically, first looking for the infrared spectroscopic heat signatures given off from a fruit, getting a perfect ‘hit’ every time”, observed Dr Jan Anthonis, CTO and co-founder of Octinion. ACTPHAST 4.0 helped the company develop the photonics components for its robot, with the incubator’s partners able to provide a full spectrum of photonics technology platforms ranging from fibre optics and micro-optics, to highly integrated photonic platforms.
Octinion – https://octinion.com
ACTPHAST 4.0 – www.actphast.eu