Washington State University researchers were awarded a $1 million federal grant to develop an intelligent bin management system supported by a robotic self-propelled fruit bin carrier in tree fruit orchards.
“This grant gives us the chance to convert what we thought would work into something that orchards can use,” said Dr. Qin Zhang, who will lead the research. “It’s one aspect to help address the overall labor shortage that orchards are dealing with.”
Zhang, director of the Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems and professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, said the project objective is to develop a system that can place and collect bins in a fruit tree orchard to reduce labor needs and increase worker productivity.
Zhang, along with his colleague Dr. Matthew E. Taylor, assistant professor in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will develop algorithms for a self-propelled robotic bin carrier, test the system in a lab, and then validate it in a working orchard.
The grant is one of four totaling $3 million awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in December as part of the National Robotics Initiative, a partnership that includes NIFA, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the Department of Defense.
The goal of the National Robotics Initiative is to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States that work alongside or cooperatively with people.