Harvey may still be a bit slow, but he is reliable, works day and night and doesn’t need a meal break.
Harvey is a robot, created to find a solution for farmers who struggle to find reliable farm labourers. Field trials at Redland Research station and in Rockhampton over the past two years have brought the 200kg, two-meter high robotic harvester to the point where he can pick a capsicum in 20 seconds.
The work is part of a QUT research project involving a team of 10 people from senior academia, research fellows, engineers and those with PhDs.
Robotics research fellow Dr Chris Lehnert said the trial had been funded by the Queensland Government to date and the project was currently needing further investment.
“We’ve found the Redlands very convenient. It’s close to home and we can bring Hervey back and forth. He’s the same size as a normal human, but on wheels,” he said.
“His job is to pick capsicum. A video scans the capsicum, then he attaches the harvesting tool and cuts at the peduncle, removing the fruit and putting it into a tray. His picking speed is 20 seconds and we would like to see that get to 10 seconds to make it economical. We are on the right track,” Dr Lehnert said.
Dr Lehnert said a person averaged three to five seconds to perform the same function but a robot was more reliable and a better risk.
Although Harvey is designed to pick capsicums, Dr Lehnert said he could also be adapted to pick tomatoes, strawberries, avocados and mangos.
“The concept is the same. But we picked capsicum because Queensland provides about 80 per cent of the Australian crop,” he said.
“The farmers are telling us they can’t find labourers. It’s too hot and the work is too intensive. The labourers are being lost to the cities. They’d rather wash dishes than pick fruit, bending over in the sun. If a labourer doesn’t come to work, the farmers can lose the crop,” he said.
In designing the robot, Dr Lehnert said the team went out to the field to see what challenged the farmers.
“Labour is one-third of the cost of production. I am very proud of this research. It is very rewarding to have the potential to bring to Queensland farmers something that is useful. This sort of useful technology excites me, looking forward,” he said.
More info about the project can be found on https://research.qut.edu.au/digital-agriculture/.