Harvest CROO Robotics' Gary Wishnatzki Discusses New Harvest Technologies and Prototypes
TAMPA, FL - Since its inception, Harvest CROO Robotics has consistently been pushing the boundaries of agricultural technology—developing state-of-the-art automated harvesting technologies.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Gary Wishnatzki, Co-Founder of Harvest CROO and Owner of Wish Farms, about the company’s latest prototype—a strawberry picking robot designed to operate completely autonomous of human operators, with greater efficiency and speed than would otherwise be possible.
“The latest prototype is picking approximately twice as fast as the one we had in the field last year,” Gary explains to me. “We have an improved leaf pushing design that is able to move foliage more efficiently…The picker is lighter with a new design that allows it to move much faster around the plant. The processing time of the images was an initial limitation in earlier prototypes, but now with image processing under 50 milliseconds and headed to 10 milliseconds, that is no longer holding us back. We will soon only be limited by how fast we can move the bot around the plant without causing damage to the plant.”
Gary tells me that the company’s current working prototype has its picking head affixed to a rail. The robot runs down the furrows of a strawberry field on the rail, simulating the movement of the vehicle to which the head will eventually be affixed. By June, Harvest CROO plans to have the new picking apparatus attached to an autonomous vehicle capable of roaming the field without the assistance of a human operator.
The latest harvester model offers a variety of advantages over traditional methods of harvesting strawberries. Benefits include:
- Lower harvest costs
- Automated harvesters can work on weekends and for extended hours
- Robots can improve the quality of strawberries by picking in the evening and morning—during cooler parts of the day than a traditional labor force allows for
- Saving energy—the prototype can deliver lower-temperature fruit to commercial pre-coolers and increase throughput of coolers, because they will not be limited to daylight hours for arrival of fruit
- The scouting of fields and use of precision ag can reduce pesticide use
- The prototype can increase yields by at least 10 percent, by harvesting the entirety of a crop and precisely weighing packages
“The fact that we have 20 percent of the U.S. strawberry industry represented as investors, speaks volumes,” Gary says, noting that the limited availability and rising cost of traditional farm labor have primed the industry to embrace robotic harvesting. “Most growers will embrace automation. With the pace that robotics is advancing, it is my belief that in 20 years, kids will learn about migrant labor in history books.”
And Gary tells me the company is not done innovating, working to introduce new technologies and make the harvesting process even more efficient and bringing the ideal product to market.
“We recently commissioned a study by the University of Florida to determine if hydrocooling in the field could increase shelf-life of the fruit,” Gary adds. “Preliminary results indicate that hydrocooling the fruit down to 50 degrees, followed by traditional forced air cooling can make a difference in shelf-life. We are looking at ways to do this in the field with a sanitized wash that would make the fruit ready to eat.”
For more on this and other innovative companies in the produce industry, stay tuned to AndNowUKnow.