The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant worth up to $1 million. It is to be administered in two phases to Harvest CROO Robotics, supporting the foundation’s mission to answer the need for agricultural labor with technology.
According to a news release, the Small Business Innovation Research Program Phase I awards Harvest CROO $225,000 to use in continued research and development of the innovative robotic strawberry picker.
“We are very excited and honored to be awarded the SBIR Phase I grant,” said Mark Brown, CFO of Harvest CROO Robotics. “Especially since only a small number of businesses that apply are funded.”
The Harvest CROO Robotics team submitted a 20-page detailed proposal that included plans to develop a fully autonomous strawberry picking platform. Phase I begins Dec. 15 and will continue through Nov. 30. In that time, Harvest CROO Robotics will investigate and develop software and hardware tools to orchestrate a team of robotic subsystems. The goal is to meet the speed and cost requirements of a commercially viable robotic strawberry harvester.
“This generous grant helps us move the project forward,” said Gary Wishnatzki, co-founder of Harvest CROO Robotics and owner of Wish Farms. “Working, in the field, with the mobile platform this strawberry season will allow us to analyze results and develop improvements.”
Harvest CROO Robotics continues to develop and test the latest technology for agricultural robotics. The strawberry picker prototype was created three years ago as a potential solution to the industry’s lack of available labor to harvest strawberries. The prototype can – in an actual working strawberry field – identify, select and pick only ripe strawberries while leaving unripe strawberries and plants unharmed. The use of this technology will improve the quality of the berries picked, reduce energy usage, and increase strawberry yields by at least 10 percent. Using the prototype last season, the picking rate was eight seconds per plant. With further improvements this season, that rate is projected to be cut in half.
“The grant will allow us to hire additional qualified staff members,” said Brown. “This will help us to better solve one of the last remaining technical hurdles of bringing the harvester to market.”