A new robot can automatically tell oranges from bananas and figure out how to best sort them out

Fruit-picking robot knows how to deal with change

A Cambridge-based technology firm has developed a robot capable of picking and sorting out different types of fruits without needing to be told what to do every time. 

The robot, which can automatically tell apples from bananas, is said to be a major improvement compared to current industrial robotic systems that excel in precision and speed but fail to accommodate changes in the environment.

“Traditional robots struggle when it comes to adapting to deal with uncertainty,” said Chris Roberts, head of industrial robotics at Cambridge Consultants. “Our system is capable of handling objects for which no detailed computer-aided design (CAD) model exists – a necessary step to using a robot with natural objects which, although they share some characteristics, are not identical.”

While common industrial robots do the same thing over and over again and need to be programmed for every little change in parameters of the objects they are handling, the robot fruit-picker can figure that out by itself.

The smart robot relies on advanced machine vision and intelligent algorithms that allow it to recognise individual objects. It can then calculate the best order in which to collect them or plan how to grip and lift them and where to put them. 

“In our demonstration, the robot uses machine vision and some smart software to identify which piece of fruit is on top,” said Roberts. “It translates this information into real-world co-ordinates and positions the ‘hand’ to pick the required fruit, whilst avoiding other objects. The custom-made hand adapts to the shape of the fruit and securely grips it without damaging it. Once picked, the fruit can also be sorted by colour so that, for example, red apples can be separated from green apples.”

The firm believes the invention could revolutionise industrial robotics and allow the technology to expand from manufacturing lines to less exactly defined environments including warehouses or vegetable fields.

An intelligent robot could, for example, tell weeds from crops in a field and remove them or better interact with people in the work environment.

Watch the robot fruit-picker demonstration:

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