Suction-cup-equipped robot designed to pick and trim farmed mushrooms
According to Pennsylvania State University's Asst. Prof. Long He, the mushroom-farming industry is currently experiencing a labor shortage. His team has thus set about addressing that problem, by developing a mushroom-picking robot.
Designed specifically for use on button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) that are grown on a shelf system, the electro-pneumatic device is capable of picking mushrooms, trimming off the ends of their stems, then placing them in a collection box. Plans call for it to ultimately utilize a machine vision system, to initially see and target individual mushrooms.
The actual picking is made possible by an adjustable-pressure suction cup, that latches onto the top of each mushroom's cap then pulls upward. Various air pressures and suction times were trialled, in order to arrive at a combination that allowed a mushroom to be picked, lowered onto the robotic trimming blade, then placed in the box – all without bruising its flesh.
In lab tests conducted so far, the robot proved to be up to 94.2 percent successful at picking mushrooms, and 97 percent successful at trimming their stems. It is believed that those figures should improve once the form of the suction cup has been optimized for the task.
"The mushroom industry in Pennsylvania is producing about two-thirds of the mushrooms grown nationwide, and the growers here are having a difficult time finding laborers to handle the harvesting, which is a very labor intensive and difficult job," says He. "The industry is facing some challenges, so an automated system for harvesting like the one we are working on would be a big help."
Source: Penn State