Development and Preliminary Evaluation of A New Apple Harvest-Assist and In-field Sorting Machine

Abstract

Apples are still manually harvested in the U.S. and other countries, which contributes to high labor and production costs. Currently, no presorting is performed at harvest or in the field, which could incur significant postharvest cost or even economic loss to growers, when a high percentage of culls are present in harvested apples. Hence, technologies that integrate harvest assist and in-field sorting (HAIS) functionalities would be greatly beneficial to the apple industry by enhancing both harvest efficiency and postharvest cost savings. A new apple HAIS prototype machine was recently developed, which includes adjustable picking platforms with fruit receiving conveyors covering the entire height of trees, an imaging-based grading and sorting system that is capable of sorting apples for color and size at a speed up to 12 apples/s, an automatic bin filling system for handling graded fruit in bins, and a computer-controlled hydraulic system for automatic handling of empty and full bins. Inhouse developed operating software is fully integrated with the machine for automatic control of fruit grading and sorting and bin filling and handling. Laboratory tests showed superior performance of the machine in fruit grading and sorting, bin filling and handling. Field tests and demonstration (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21SB9FJjf2M) conducted in a commercial orchard in 2019 harvest season showed that only 0.4% of harvested fruit were downgraded due to bruising, which exceeded the industry’s requirement for harvest-induced apple bruising. With further improvements, the HAIS machine can be used for commercial harvesting and infield presorting of apples.

Publication
Appled Engineering in Agriculture (under review)