Packaging company Sonoco has invested in US-based robotics firm Harvest CROO Robotics as it aims to increase harvesting efficiency and expand into fresh food packaging.
Harvest CROO Robotics began operations in 2012 and has developed a fully autonomous, fully automatic strawberry picker.
Sonoco said a key driver in the development of the packaging and harvesting technology solution is the current and projected labour shortage in agriculture.
The harvester will be able to pick eight acres of strawberries per day with the goal of picking 95% of the fruit off any plant. The new Harvest CROO technology will allow growers to avoid picking during the hottest part of the day, when berries bruise the easiest.
The patented technology revolves around the concept of the Pitzer Picking Wheel. The wheel utilises “conservation of motion” principles, with robotic picking heads that can achieve 360 degrees of rotation and will decrease the amount of movement the robot has to accomplish to complete the picking action. A series of claws on the wheel picks the berries, which are then transferred to a packing region of the harvester, where they will be inspected and packed into consumer units.
Sonoco CEO Rob Tiede said: “This partnership solidly aligns with our focus on improving the supply chain for fresh produce by connecting harvesting technology with new packaging technology. Efforts to improve harvesting efficiency, decrease food waste and extend freshness life are key focus areas for us as we expand into fresh food packaging.”
He added: “This is just one example of our commitment to addressing food waste and access to fresh food in the US. We recently announced a partnership with Clemson University, Sonoco Fresh, which focuses on the development of new packaging technologies to extend the shelf life of fresh foods.” The initiative establishes a multi-disciplinary hub for innovation and research to advance fresh food packaging and distribution. Sonoco will contribute $1.7 million over five years.
Harvest CROO Robotics co-founder Gary Wishnatzki said: “The produce industry is on the cusp of a major revolution in robotics. Labour-related issues are going to have to be addressed through technology, and we believe we can be part of the solution.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2018