Strawberry picking robot could harvest enough fruit for Wimbledon

An autonomous strawberry picking robot that outperforms human fruit picker could herald a revolution in the use of soft-fruit harvesting technology its inventors have claimed.   

Strawberry picking robot
The Rubion robot uses photonic sensors to detect the wavelengths of light, or the ‘signatures’ given off from a ripe strawberry

Developed by Belgian robotics specialist Octinion the so-called ‘Rubion’ robot uses a combination of smart photonics technology and an innovative clasping mechanism to pick up 360kg of strawberries each day. According to the firm this compares to 50kg a day for a productive human picker.

Octinion claims that a fleet of just 14 of the robots would take less than seven days to pick and package all strawberries needed for Wimbledon.

Rubion 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 the RGB camera has built into the ‘eye’ of the robot.

It then uses a patented soft-touch gripper to pick strawberries from below and sort the fruits by size or weight and pack into punnets as it goes along.

Commenting on the technology Octinion CTO Dr Jan Anthonis said: “Just like you know what a plump, juicy red strawberry looks like, Rubion can do this mathematically, looking for the infrared spectroscopic heat signatures given off from a perfect fruit, getting a perfect ‘hit’ every time.”

Strawberry picking robot
A soft-touch gripper picks strawberries from below

While the technology required to harvest and other hard fruits is relatively straightforward the automated picking of soft fruit has traditionally been a much more challenging problem explained Octinion CEO Dr Tom Coen.  “[it] 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…our…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 development of the robot was supported by ACTPHAST 4.0  an SME ‘incubator' that helps existing and fledgling businesses with innovation in photonics.