Plant City, FL-based Harvest CROO Robotics announced the introduction of its autonomous vehicle, which is a major step toward the completion of the Alpha Unit, a robotic strawberry picker expected to be operational in Florida fields next winter.
According to Harvest CROO, the mobile platform is a modified version of a Colby Harvest Pro Machine. With four-wheel steering, turning movement will be smooth and precise, providing a zero turning radius for greater maneuverability than a standard tractor. Special leveling hardware and software has been developed and added to allow the vehicle to compensate for varying bed heights.
The vehicle will carry 16 picking robots through the field and span six beds of plants, picking the four middle beds. The Harvest CROO machine is equipped with a dual GPS system. The Harvester uses both GPS systems to interpolate the position of the platform to be able to position the robots precisely over the plants.
Using the proprietary vision system, all ripe berries will be harvested from the plants. The fruit will then be transferred up to the platform level of the machine using a series of conveyers. There, the packing module of the machine will perform a secondary inspection and grade the fruit. Depending on quality, it will either be packed into consumer units, diverted to process trays, or discarded.
In December, the National Science Foundation awarded a grant worth up to $1 million for the development of the machine. As part of Phase I of the grant, Harvest CROO Robotics is developing software and hardware tools. They include the vehicle’s GPS navigation system, LIDAR technology, and other camera and sensor features.
While fundraising for the project has been ongoing, the current investment round will likely be closed at the end of July, when field testing of the vehicle is completed. “We will possibly open a new investment round early next year, at a higher valuation,” stated Gary Wishnatzki, Co-Founder of Harvest CROO and Owner of Wish Farms. “The new unit price will reflect the successful deployment of the Alpha Unit, a key milestone.”