How We Grow

2021 Sept/Oct How We Grow

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 5 of 23

PEST MANAGEMENT Cleaning Robots: Out of Your Home and Into Your Orchard You may recall Rosey the Robot from the old cartoon, The Jetsons. When the series aired in the 1960s, I doubt many dreamed that we would actually have robots to clean up after us in the coming decades. Today we have products like the Roomba that clean our floors, and soon almond producers may have a robot to help sanitize their orchards. A new robot is being developed to autonomously move through an orchard, identify mummy nuts and remove them from the tree. Early trials have caught the attention of several in the almond industry. "The idea is you want to get down to one mummy per tree or less to avoid serious economic losses, but the effectiveness of shaking can vary a lot depending on fog, moisture, variety and other factors," said Mel Machado, director of member relations at Blue Diamond Growers. In an effort to remove all remaining mummies left by the shaker, growers hire labor crews with poles to remove remaining mummies by hand. This is tedious work and expensive for the grower, which could make the practice a prime candidate for automation. That's where Anna Haldewang enters the equation. She is the founder and CEO of InsightTRAC, 1 which has invented an autonomous rover that can spot and remove mummies in the tree from the orchard floor. The product is still in the testing and development phases, but it is an example of innovation that could contribute to an integrated pest management approach while saving growers' time and labor costs. Seeking and destroying mummies The InsightTRAC rover is designed to navigate the orchard autonomously, spot mummies using computer vision and remove them by shooting a biodegradable pellet. The idea originally came from shooting mummies off trees with an airsoft gun. "We tested all sorts of approaches like a water jet, air jet, shaker or something that pulled mummies off of the trees," says Haldewang. "But the airsoft gun was the most effective." Almond growers have been an important part of developing the rover since inception. Haldewang's first venture into the almond industry was with a drone pollination technology called Plan Bee. Through her interactions while testing that technology, she learned of the challenges in orchard sanitation directly from growers, prompting her to pivot her efforts to InsightTRAC. "We're constantly speaking with growers, and that's how this rover has been shaped into what it is today," said Haldewang. "Even down to the color, the shape of the rover, everything about it. Growers are the ones who continue to inform every decision we make." To develop the artificial intelligence to accurately spot a mummy using computer vision, Haldewang captured and processed 20,000 different images of what a mummy looks like from various distances and angles. With this computer vision the rover can spot and accurately remove mummies up to 30 feet away. In addition to removing the mummies autonomously, InsightTRAC will provide growers with insightful data such as how many mummies were located on each tree. This may allow for more proactive measures to be taken in future years, such as shaking some trees more than once or adjusting mid-season integrated pest management practices. The company is currently manufacturing a small number of these rovers and hopes to trial them with growers this coming winter. As they ramp up commercialization efforts, they plan to offer the robots as a service for the first few years before selling them directly to producers. Will it pencil out? The potential economic losses from NOW are significant and well- documented. For example, depending on 1 InsightTRAC Robotic Mummy Removal 2 5

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of How We Grow - 2021 Sept/Oct How We Grow