First autonomous strawberry picking robot

Autonomous technology is not only being developed for agricultural applications but also for horticultural ones, the latest being an autonomous strawberry picking robot.

by Steven Vale

6 Feb 2019

Navigating through greenhouse crops, the Rubion (culmination of five years of development work by Belgian company Octinion) not only detects and picks ripe strawberries without damage, but also places them in a punnet.

Developed to counter rising labour costs and the difficulty for growers to recruit seasonal staff, the official launch takes place at the three-day Fruit Logistica show in Berlin, which starts tomorrow.

Designed to work in all greenhouses and with all the main varieties, the Rubion uses a combination of camera-guidance/GPS techniques to locate a ripe fruit, followed by a patented electrically-powered arm and soft touch gripper to pick it.

When the company previewed the first prototype in 2016, it took 12 seconds to locate and pick a strawberry. This was reduced to five seconds on the second prototype in 2017. We understand that the patented robotic arm on the commercial version picks a strawberry every three seconds, which is about the time it takes to do the same job by hand.

CEO Tom Coen of the Octinion Technology Group says robotics provide numerous possibilities. “Harvest prediction, picking according to market needs, simply picking when the berries are ripe instead of when workers are available – these are just a few examples of what is possible as of today,” he said. “The consumer will also notice the difference, as strawberries will be fresher and show less bruising.”

We understand that the strawberry harvesting robot could ultimately be joined by autonomous harvesting machines for other soft fruits.