The idea of an autonomous strawberry harvester has sparked the National Science Foundation to award a grant worth up to $1 million to Plant City, FL-based Harvest CROO (Computerized Robotic Optimized Obtainer) Robotics, supporting the company’s mission to answer the need for agricultural labor with technology.
The funding will be dispersed in two phases. The Small Business Innovation Research Program Phase I awards Harvest CROO $225,000 to use in continued research and development of the robotic strawberry picker.
According to Harvest CROO Robotics, its team submitted a 20-page detailed proposal that included plans to develop a fully autonomous strawberry picking platform. Phase I begins December 15 and will continue through November 30. In that time, the company will investigate and develop software and hardware tools to orchestrate a team of robotic subsystems. The goal is to meet the speed and cost requirements of a commercially viable robotic strawberry harvester.
“This generous grant helps us move the project forward,” said Gary Wishnatzki, co-founder of Harvest CROO Robotics and owner of neighboring Wish Farms. “Working in the field with the mobile platform, this strawberry season will allow us to analyze results and develop improvements.”
The strawberry picker prototype was created three years ago as a potential solution to the industry’s lack of available labor to harvest strawberries. According to trials conducted by Harvest CROO, the prototype can identify, select, and pick only ripe strawberries while leaving unripe strawberries and plants unharmed.
Using the prototype last season, the picking rate was eight seconds per plant. With further improvements this season, that rate is projected to be cut in half.