Technology progress in mechanical harvest of fresh market apples


This article reviews the research and development progress of mechanical harvest technologies for fresh market apples over the past decades with a focus on the predominant technologies of shake-and-catch, robots, and harvest-assist platform methods. In addition, based on the review it points out the bottlenecks and future trends of these three technology categories. Major progress in the shake-and-catch method is related to theoretical studies on the effective removal of apples and catching mechanisms to minimize bruising. The unacceptable bruising conditions hinder the shake-and-catch method from commercial application. Two startups of apple harvesting robots are in the stage of commercializing their products based on vacuum and three-finger end-effectors, respectively. Economic benefits, as well as technology reliability and robustness of both robots, are pending for validation before they are on the market. In addition, a key obstacle faced by both robots before commercial use is to find a solution to pick apples grown in clusters. Harvest-assist platforms are gradually adopted by apple growers, but at a very low rate due to their doubts on economic benefits. Validation of harvest-assist platforms’ economic benefits and incorporation with more functions (e.g., sorting) would enhance their adoption. With the rapid development of sensing and automation technologies, such as novel sensors, embedded systems, and machine learning algorithms, and the progress in new tree canopy structures that are friendlier for fruit visibility and accessibility, it is believed the robots for fresh market apple harvest would be realized and commercialized in the near future. Currently, more efforts should be invested in analyzing and validating the economic benefits of harvest-assist platforms, as well as adding more functions to the harvest-assist platforms, to increase their application rate for the benefit of the apple industry.

Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, 175, 105606