Economical Robotic Citrus Harvester To Be Developed By Energid Technologies

Cambridge, Massachusetts (October 22, 2010) — Energid Technologies Corporation has been funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a commercial robotic citrus harvesting system.

In the 2009-ended season, 12 million tons of citrus were harvested in the United States, of which about 3.5% were removed through shaking. The rest, approximately 50 billion individual fruits, had to be picked by hand, often in adverse weather, often from ladders. This happens year after year.

The difficulty of harvesting leaves U.S. growers at a disadvantage in the world market due to higher salary and support costs in the United States. Combined with recent diseases, including Citrus Greening and Canker, it has stressed the U.S. citrus industry.

Two-year funding for the development of a new automation system follows Energid’s demonstration of the viability of its approach through a proof-of-concept effort also funded by theU.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The approach relies on new robotic technologies. Technological innovation is the way forward for the U.S. citrus industry”,said James English, Chief Technical Officer at Energid Technologies. “The way we compete, the way we excel, is through technology and efficiency.”

Most past attempts at automated harvesting have focused either on conventional robotics, multi-link arms, or on bulk removal, such as trunk and canopy shakers. Energid is developing a system that combines the best of both approaches. It uses a large number of low-cost robotic mechanisms to remove fruit.

“Imagine a flexible picking mechanism that shoots out to remove an orange like a frog’s tongue catching a fly”,said Dr. Chu-Yin Chang, Principal Engineer at Energid Technologies. “Now line up tens or even hundreds of these. That is the system we are developing.”

Energid is applying powerful computer algorithms it developed for NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. National Science Foundation. The development will leverage Energid’s Actin and Selectin robotics software toolkits which have been used to design, control, and simulate many advanced robotic systems.

“The citrus-harvesting robotic system is using the full range of our technologies”, said Dr. Chang.

Work on the project will be done in Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, and California. Field trials will be performed in Southwest Florida. The project is supported by the Small Business Innovation Research program of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Grant Number 2010-33610-21462.