Could Strawberry Picking Robots Soon Harvest Enough Fruit for Wimbledon?

strawberry picking robots Wimbledon
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by Jessica Tabinor on

It’s that time of year again on the tennis calendar. Wimbledon is in full flow as we head towards the business end of the sport’s most iconic tournament. Though Andy Murray’s involvement this year has been limited to a short run in the mixed doubles as he recovers from injury, fans have been spoilt for choice elsewhere.

Johanna Konta instead led British efforts in the singles as she reached the quarter-finals and we can look forward to a mouth-watering clash between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the men’s semis today, incredibly the first time they have met at SW19 since that epic final in 2008!

It’s estimated that 27 tons of strawberries and 7,000 litres of cream are consumed by tennis fans during the Wimbledon tournament. Their signature dish that hungry spectators have enjoyed since the Championships began in 1877. But where do all of the strawberries come from?Wimbledon has sourced its strawberries from a farm in Hugh Lowe Farms in Mereworth, Kent, for almost 30 years. Each serving has consistently contained exactly ten pieces of fruit, despite changes in size and harvest. Currently, they are picked every day from sunrise before being delivered to the All England Lawn Tennis Club by 10.30am

However, an autonomous strawberry picking robot which could outperform human fruit pickers could pave the way for a revolution in soft-fruit harvesting.

The robot, known as ‘Rubion’, has been developed by Belgian robotics company, Octinion and uses a combination of smart photonics technology and innovative clasping mechanisms to carefully pick up each strawberry. It is believed that the robot could pick up 360kg of strawberries each day compared to 50kg a day for a human picker.

Octinion claims that a fleet of just 14 of the robots would take less than seven days to pick and package all strawberries needed for Wimbledon.

How does the strawberry picking robot work?

Rubion uses photonic sensors to detect the different wavelengths of light, or the ‘signatures’ given off from a ripe, red strawberry according to a pre-programmed set of characteristics the RGB camera has built into the ‘eye’ of the robot. The speed enables each robot to deliver 11,500 strawberries in a 16-hour day.

Commenting on the new technology, CTO and Co-founder of Octinion, Dr Jan Anthonis said:

“Just like you know what a plump, juicy red strawberry looks like, Rubion can do this mathematically, looking for the infrared spectroscopic heat signatures given off from a perfect fruit, getting a perfect ‘hit’ every time.”

Watch the video by Octinion

The arm of the robot has a specially designed ‘soft-touch gripper’ that handles the strawberry in exactly the same way that a human would, without cutting or burning the stem. Rubion will also sort the fruit by size or weight and pack them into punnets as it goes along.

CEO and Co-founder, Dr Tom Coen added:

“The picking of soft fruits with machines has always been tricky given that they are so easy to get squashed and the sensitivity needed to discern whether a fruit was ripe or rotten, simply wasn’t there… however, Rubion, our autonomous strawberry-picking robot is a novel way around this problem. It is comparable to a human in many ways: the robot only picks the finest fresh, red berries and will not bruise or hurt the strawberries in any way.”

Whether you’re enjoying Wimbledon’s signature dish today or not, now all we have to do is sit back and enjoy two of the sport’s greatest players battle it out for a place in Sunday’s final!

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