THE world's first automated mango harvester is threatening to revolutionise the industry after astonishing field tests in Yeppoon.
Developed by CQUniversity Australia as part of a Commonwealth-funded research project, the auto-harvester produced a 75 per cent efficiency in automatically identifying and picking fruit in view.
It took about five seconds for the machine to harvest a mango, from detection to placement.
"The auto-harvester has the potential to solve some of the major labour force issues that currently limit the industry," CQUniversity's Professor Kerry Walsh said.
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"The harvester is part of an integrated system which will ensure farmers know exactly how many fruit are on their trees, when they will be in perfect condition for the consumer, and when to employ the right number of people for picking and packing.
"The end goal is to save costs and improve productivity on farm, while driving consumer demand by ensuring a top-quality eating experience every time."
Ian Groves, of Groves Grown Fruit, Yeppoon, hosted the first field trials of the prototype auto-harvester and confessed he was excited by the "game-changing" potential of the technology.
"The machinery identifying and counting fruit in the orchard turned out to be within just a few per cent of the actual number of fruit in the entire block last year," Mr Groves said.
"That technology is also able to measure the size range of that fruit and so knowing how much fruit is in that block, knowing when it's going to be mature and knowing the size of the fruit, means we can schedule our workforce, order the right number of cartons, the size of the inserts going into those cartons - this could be a real game changer, not only for our farm but for the entire industry."
The prototype auto-harvester was mounted on a trailer, towed by a utility.
The next phase of research will investigate options for it to be mounted on a terrestrial drone to operate autonomously, at faster speeds and higher accuracy.
Professor Walsh said an immediate objective was to lift performance of the harvester to over 90pc efficiency of fruit in view, to increase speed and refine its construction to reduce cost.
Professor Walsh's team has previously delivered to industry a near infrared spectroscopy measurement system to assess the eating quality of mangoes and predict the ideal harvest time.
"The next step on from that, having 'seen' the fruit, was to try to reach out to pick the fruit to automate the harvest," Professor Walsh said.
"Harvest estimates and auto-harvest work best in small orchards, so this complements Queensland DAF work on orchard designs."
- This story first appeared on the North Qld Register.