Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Compare cell phone plans using Wirefly's innovative plan comparison tool ×
Robotics

Farmer Coalition Offers $250K Prize For Blueberry Picking Robot (robohub.org) 112

Hallie Siegel writes: Having spent many a back breaking hour in deep woods Ontario picking wild blueberries in summer time, I can only imagine the challenge of farming and harvesting these awesome little flavour nuggets. Blueberries are in record demand (probably my son alone accounts for a significant percentage of that!) so it's no surprise, really, that a coalition of farmers has banded together to offer a prize for automated blueberry picking solutions. We've seen competitions and challenges spur innovation in other areas of robotics — think robocar — why not blueberry picking? Can't wait to see the results of this one.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Farmer Coalition Offers $250K Prize For Blueberry Picking Robot

Comments Filter:
  • Cost (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Good luck being cheaper than darker skinned humans.

    • Re:Cost (Score:5, Interesting)

      by KGIII ( 973947 ) <uninvolved@outlook.com> on Saturday October 31, 2015 @04:53AM (#50837263) Journal

      I live in the home of the Great Wild Maine Blueberry and it is nommy. For starters, you're correct. We have no brown people until harvest season - then we have a lot of them. They stick around for the apple picking season. Then they disappear like the wind. Often, they're Jamaican. I have no idea why. A buddy doesn't hire them, they're from a separate company supplied by Wyman Blueberry or something or other. He hires locals.

      Also, blueberries are seldom "picked" per se. Some, very few, are hand-picked and those will cost you a small fortune. The Wild Maine Blueberry (which is nommy) is a low-bush plant and not to be confused with cultivated berries which are larger and, often, on taller plants. The blueberries are raked with a device that is similar to a cranberry rake, they just have less space between the tines. You gently pull the rake up, from beneath the berries, and tilt it forward while pulling gently upwards. You repeat this until the berries fill the back portion. Then, leaving some space for the wind to blow, you dump the berries into your pail. Why? The wind winnows out the berries and your bucket will be heavier and the berries cleaner.

      You also do it gently so that you squish fewer berries - berries that are squished are suitable only for the cannery. Berries that go to the cannery don't make as much money. Unfortunately, most berries go to the cannery these days. You need to know the right people to be able to get the good stuff - which I do. I generally get an obscene amount of berries and freeze them after cleaning them. I also make blueberry jelly and blueberry pie. I can't seem to make a good jam, however. I just can't get it so that it's not runny. I'll learn...

      There's quite an art to raking them. As I mentioned above, I've a friend who owns around 500 acres of berries. I get some healthy exercise helping him out. In the spring we go and burn the fields every other year. We put chemicals on the fields to kill the Poplar tree saplings. We put hay on the fields after the season is over - that's burned off the following year, in the spring, while the snow is still in the woods but not in the fields - as it is wont to do, most years. They've an automated burning machine but that's set a hill, down in Vienna, ME, ablaze on more than one occasion. He (which also seem to mean me most years) doesn't subscribe to that highfalutin newfangled stuff - it's done the way it was done by his father before and his father before that. Legend says, his grand father was the one to invent the blueberry winnowing machine. I've no idea of the veracity, they're all liars.

      Truth be told, I'm not quite sure how I got roped into helping. I started just buying blueberries but soon got asked if I wanted to see how it worked. Not long after, I was invited to give it a shot. Pretty soon, I'd filled my belly and my pail was empty. This meant that I should probably give him money. So, I gave him money but was told I should probably fill a pail. Soon, that turned into a few. Eventually, I figured out that I was paying to work. I'm not quite sure how that state of affairs happened but I did stop paying and now I don't actually pay for my heap of berries but I earn them by helping out. He's offered to pay me, numerous times, but I think he only offers to be polite and knowing that I'll decline.

      If you've never had the Nommy Wild Maine Blueberry then you're missing out. They're not as sweet as the cultivated berries and, often times, not as large. However, they're full of flavor and my doctor (another lying bastard) tells me that they're good for me. He's probably a member of the blueberry cartel. There is actually quite a bit of money in blueberries, they're one of the highest paying crops around. They're just finicky and a bitch to harvest. They do have automated raking machines but they don't actually result in berries you'd want to buy unless you were buying them canned. Let's just say, they don't treat the berries right.

      So, while someone may develop a machine to autonomously harvest berries,

      • Re:Cost (Score:5, Informative)

        by dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Saturday October 31, 2015 @05:04AM (#50837289)

        There are, in fact, several species of blueberries. The commercial cultivates in the USA and Europe are nowadays (unfortunately) the American high brush blueberries, but the European wild blueberry tastes far more intensive. They are small berries with violet flesh and red-violet juice and they will colour your tongue to the hue of the tongue of a Chow-Chow dog.

        • Re:Cost (Score:5, Interesting)

          by KGIII ( 973947 ) <uninvolved@outlook.com> on Saturday October 31, 2015 @05:26AM (#50837305) Journal

          There are indeed. I've tried quite a few of the various species over the years. I love my blueberries. I recently shared a story about them... Lemme see if I can find it... Nope, was more than a few days ago. Basically, as a wee toddler - not much larger - 3 - 5 years old, I ate some blueberries and, as it turns out, they were inside bear poop. Yup... I ate bear poop blueberries. *sighs* I was sharing it when someone was alarmed about their being power lines near their house and worried about their kids.

          I really don't like the cultivated berries as much. Sure, they're sweeter but they also feel mealy. They're just not as good. I don't know if I have had the variety you speak of but it's possible. If you ever get to my neck of the woods, I'll share some of my stash with you. We have one subspecies, I'm not even sure if it has a name, that you find in patches. They're dark, almost black. They also tend to grow a bit larger. They are the epitome of heaven in a little package direct from Mother Nature herself. I usually separate those out and gorge myself on them instead of being patient and freezing them.

          Man, I'm hundreds of miles from home and my stash of blueberries. Stupid Slashdot...

          • It sounds like a description of bilberries. They're absolutely divine, especially macerated in sugar and served with cream. Nearly impossible to buy, though, and a pain to pick. I think they're called huckleberries sometimes, but I think that can refer to other fruits, too.

            • by KGIII ( 973947 )

              It's a blueberry. I'd not get this wrong, trust me on this. ;-) It's one of the ones listed here:

              http://umaine.edu/blueberries/... [umaine.edu]

              Not all blueberries are blue. They're pink, blue, dark red, some are kind of purple, and some are black - they vary a bit in between the shades. I've also noted your other reply. I'll look into it. ;-) Jams are a pain in my ass. I make a mean jelly, though.

            • by illtud ( 115152 )

              Absolutely - although the same genus as Blueberries, they're a mile apart.

        • There are, in fact, several species of blueberries. The commercial cultivates in the USA and Europe are nowadays (unfortunately) the American high brush blueberries, but the European wild blueberry tastes far more intensive. They are small berries with violet flesh and red-violet juice and they will colour your tongue to the hue of the tongue of a Chow-Chow dog.

          And if you get some of their juice on your clothes it will dye them, permantly.

        • my second favorite "Taxi" scene https://youtu.be/K_bEXeTwrC8 [youtu.be]
          My first being "What does a yellow light mean?" https://youtu.be/1HvmtbZzA40 [youtu.be]

        • by illtud ( 115152 )

          There are, in fact, several species of blueberries. The commercial cultivates in the USA and Europe are nowadays (unfortunately) the American high brush blueberries, but the European wild blueberry tastes far more intensive

          AKA bilberries, winberries or 'llys' in Welsh. Unlike the relatively tasteless blueberry, they stain your fingers and lips purple. You won't find them commercially cultivated, you have to go up the hills to find them, and it takes quite a while to pick enough to make a tart (US pie). Blue

      • Pepperidge Farms can remember that shit, I'm good. :V
      • The leading cause of jam not setting is insufficient sugar. A lot of people balk at putting in the same weight of sugar as they do fruit, though.

      • The wind winnows out the berries and your bucket will be heavier

        I want to know what substance with negative weight was on them.

    • Trivial. Very trivial. In addition, with the gains made in vision recogonition and sensors since 9-11, it should be very easy.
  • by duke_cheetah2003 ( 862933 ) on Saturday October 31, 2015 @03:33AM (#50837157) Homepage

    I think if someone invents such a contraption, they stand to make WAY more than a $250k prize by patenting and manufacturing the thing themselves and selling it to farmers. Really. Who would be stupid enough to give away such an invention for a mere $250k?

    • by radarskiy ( 2874255 ) on Saturday October 31, 2015 @04:51AM (#50837259)

      "Who would be stupid enough to give away such an invention for a mere $250k?"

      -1, irrelevant

      The conditions of the contest do not involve alienating all rights.

    • by fred911 ( 83970 ) on Saturday October 31, 2015 @05:00AM (#50837277)

      Case in point, here's what today's $200k solution looks like. http://www.oxbocorp.com/Produc... [oxbocorp.com] You should be able to add telemetry, control and associated support systems for less than $50k.

    • by monkeyxpress ( 4016725 ) on Saturday October 31, 2015 @07:16AM (#50837439)

      Absolutely. I worked for a small blueberry farmer who was making sorting equipment back in the early 2000s. It didn't take him long before he was making more from the machines (they were much more basic than a picking machine) than his entire blueberry farm. There is big money in reducing the need for seasonal labour and $250k is peanuts.

      As an aside, one of the things that was common on the blueberry farms was to use a tree shaker to harvest the lower grade fruit. It was only the really high quality fruit that was hand picked. I never enquired as to what the main benefits of this were (whether quality or yield?), but the tree shakers seemed to work pretty well at getting everything out of the tree and weren't exactly complex pieces of equipment. I wonder if that puts more constraints on the economics of such a project that make it less attractive for agricultural equipment manufacturers.

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Well if the problem is seasonal labour than some out of the box thinking would likely be more successful in the long run. So perhaps very low shrub blueberry bushes grown in a floating aquaponic systems under artificial conditions with continuous on rotation cropping. So better labour management combined with maintaining product quality, reduced land use, reduced water use and reduced transport costs. So problem with picking blueberries, come up with a better blueberry bush and better growing systems. This

    • Lots of people are that stupid. It's why gamification is a thing now.

    • 250k to develop a commercial electronics product, let alone a robot is a joke. You need way more than that.
      The only way this could (maybe) work is if this was a reward for bringing any such device to the market, no strings attached. No need to hand it over to them for 250k (haha).

      Of course, if the goal is to just come up with the best concept, I'd get right on it. Ideas are cheap.

      • by geoskd ( 321194 )

        250k to develop a commercial electronics product, let alone a robot is a joke. You need way more than that. The only way this could (maybe) work is if this was a reward for bringing any such device to the market, no strings attached. No need to hand it over to them for 250k (haha).

        Electronics cost far less than that to produce if you discount the labor. That is exactly what happens with a startup company, which is exactly what this kind of prize is intended to inspire...

        The actual materials and tools costs of electronics design is less than 10% of what it was 20 years ago. A good scope for robotics design will run you less than $200. You wouldn't design a processor board, you would buy an off-the-shelf PI or BBB.

        Even the metalworking tools needed for robot design have come down in p

        • I wrote develop, not produce.

          You need to hire and pay people with high-tech skills, at least some of which should have experience, otherwise you pay more for failed attempts.

          You go through multiple iterations of prototypes, each costing much more than your mass produced final product would.

          You need to aquire several certifications depending on the product, each requiring a lot of paperwork, pretests and costly official final tests.

          Setting up production and QA may also take some rounds until you reach the de

    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      They can also earn less than $250k from the invention even if it meets the conditions of the contest easily. It depends on the circumstances of the inventor.
    • I think if someone invents such a contraption, they stand to make WAY more than a $250k prize by patenting and manufacturing the thing themselves and selling it to farmers. Really. Who would be stupid enough to give away such an invention for a mere $250k?

      It doesn't matter. The farmers still win. The $250k is to get people interested in looking into the problem. By getting published on slashdot, they are already halfway to their goal as their primary goal is publicity. If someone solves the problem and wants to sell them the machine, the farmers can keep their $250k and still come out ahead as they still accomplished the goal of getting someone to create the machine for them.

    • It did not say that you have to give it to the farmers. It said develop one and you win 250k. From there, these farmers will happily buy them from you.
  • We've got torque-based break drives, color-based OCR, and super-tiny pressure sensors to match the torque-break drives for finer degree of control and less chance of damaging the harvested product, plus extendable arms and such.

    Strap all of that to a bucket and battery on wheels and send it out into the fields.

    Will work with any fruit of a different color than the surrounding vegetation, so add strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, grapes of varying cultivars, apples, oranges, tomatoes, peppers, and more t

    • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Saturday October 31, 2015 @03:53AM (#50837185) Homepage

      If you have a special drive just to break the berries, my advice is to skip this contest and build a jam factory.

    • Re:Easily done (Score:4, Insightful)

      by KGIII ( 973947 ) <uninvolved@outlook.com> on Saturday October 31, 2015 @04:59AM (#50837273) Journal

      I'm going to assume you know nothing about blueberries. (The vary in color, for starters - quite a bit actually, up to and including pink and black.) Also, they're kind of complicated to harvest. 'Tis not an easy thing to do, I suspect. They also don't all tend to ripen at the same time and may well be mixed in with some other berry in the low bushes. I forget the name of that berry but it's almost identical to the blueberry only it grows on a different plant (coniferous shrub) and is poisonous. It too grows in shallow and acidic soil.

      This actually is kind of difficult, I suspect. They have an electric raking machine but it's still needing to be guided by a user. It also mashes the damned things all to hell and anyone who uses it is a spawn of Satan. In fact, for even suggesting such a thing, you're dead to me. You're dead to me Khyber! Dead to me, indeed!

      I take my fucking blueberries serious. I'll straight up stab a mother fucker for messing with my blueberries.

      • ...lieutenant. [wikipedia.org]

        They may be having an intoxicating effect on you.
        For one... you seem to be able to talk about them until you're blue in the face. [youtube.com]

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Khyber ( 864651 )

        I grew blueberries of many cultivars in South Carolina. I'm well aware of rabbit-eye and highbush and more cultivars.

        Jeeze, you'd think a HORTICULTURAL RESEARCH DIRECTOR wouldn't have already thought about this stuff. It's REALLY easy to pick a blueberry. It's really easy to determine when the appropriate harvest time for any given berry has arrived - it's touch and color-based.

        A raking machine? Well no fucking wonder so many get damaged. As I said, WE HAVE PRESSURE-SENSITIVE ROBOTICS, hell they've been fea

        • A raking machine? Well no fucking wonder so many get damaged. As I said, WE HAVE PRESSURE-SENSITIVE ROBOTICS, hell they've been featured on slashdot HUNDREDS OF TIMES. Yet you seem to have thrown all that prior knowledge away.

          Speaking of knowledge, pressure and flex sensors tend to be imprecise things which require repeated recalibration and replacement. If this were as easy as you say, we'd already have generalized picking robots with laser spectrometers built into their hands for brix content measurement, and they'd be picking grapes, blueberries, strawberries, etc. Why don't you order up two of those pressure sensors, put them on the tips of some robot fingers, and see how good you are at picking fruit with a robot? I guarant

        • Have you ever done a single thing with robotics? Like, anything? Computer vision is still very rudimentary, reverse kinematics is still a huge problem (how do you get your end effector where you want it? oh, and make sure you dodge all the branches along the way), and integrating sensing data into precise control loops is something that looks really impressive in the lab and still fails miserably in the field more often than not.

          If you don't believe me, just watch the recent DARPA challenge with humanoid ro

    • I'll take my $250K, now.

      You'll take your $250K when you get it working, and not until. Smarter people than you have already been trying.

      If it's so easy, why don't you put a robot where your mouth is, and pick some fucking blueberries with it?

      • Don't be such a kneebiter. You OBVIOUSLY don't know how tech products are created.

        1. Boy Genius Entrepreneur has Great Idea!
        2. Boy Genius hires handful of low-wage monkey types to do grunt work (It's Simple! All You Have To Do Is...)
        3. Boy Genius becomes billionaire. Monkey types get laid off.

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        "If it's so easy, why don't you put a robot where your mouth is, and pick some fucking blueberries with it?"

        Because I'm too busy doing LED horticulture, where the REAL money is.

        Or do you forget that I can very easily build and program mechanical things to do a fucking given task? [tinypic.com]

        OCR is simple as fuck. Pressure-sensitive motor drive is easy as fuck. Wake me up when you can even do HALF of that.

        • OCR is simple as fuck.

          The blueberries aren't labeled with text. Nobody puts a post-it note on the ripe ones. Or did you mean optical cranberry recognition? We're talking about blueberries.

          Pressure-sensitive motor drive is easy as fuck. Wake me up when you can even do HALF of that.

          I controlled a servo with a flex sensor ages ago. Whoopeeshit. I don't want a medal. I want to see you pick a blueberry with a robot.

  • Farmer Coalition Offers $250K Prize For Blueberry Picking Parrot
    • Farmer Coalition Offers $250K Prize For Blueberry Picking Parrot

      The Persistence of Vision: Monty Python Variant.
      Did you feel an urge to also argue about it?

  • by fygment ( 444210 ) on Saturday October 31, 2015 @09:36AM (#50837637)

    Presumably a prototype has to be built, right? Because no one would be stupid enough to give a prize for a plan on paper, right?

    So how many decent prototypes would an inventor have to go through before there's a decent working model?

    And if each prototype costs $10-20k, the actual reward for the inventor gets smaller and smaller ... so small that only garage builders are likely to give it a try. A bona fide company with resources, say engineers/techs at $60K a year, machine shops, taxes, are unlikely to give the matter any thought. A university might, but then you will have to wait several years.

    TL:DR - you get what you pay for. Put up a $1 million dollar prize and you might see some serious interest.

  • In Virginia the thrill of the wild berry hunt is often accompanied by a rattlesnake dance where one leaps bout trying not to get bit. If we had machines that would seek and pick wild berries the sale on anti venom would shrink. There could even be a sales slowdown for bear spray.
  • Now you won't need migrant farmers, and the associated leftists to defend them.

    Yay capitalism!

    • And yet, it is the far right that have pushed for using cheap labor over automation. In fact, in general, it is the far right that hires loads of illegals and pays them far less than they should while also skipping taxed.
      • You have failed in your understanding of "far right." The Republicans who want Mexican labor are big government, "Progressive", crony "capitalists." The far right wants border control, limited or no immigration, and free market technology.

The computing field is always in need of new cliches. -- Alan Perlis

Working...