Intelligent swarm of drones for harvesting fruit

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By Marcel Fuschlberger

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 18th century, the advance of technology has been an almost unstoppable force. However due to this incredible speed, it has not always been possible to direct this progressive movement into certain fields. One of the sectors that has been ignored is agriculture, and specifically harvesting fruit from trees.

How do I propose to utilize what is currently available to achieve such a goal? The idea is to look at existing technologies and how to combine them in order to achieve a higher purpose rather than to simply wait for advances to be made in a certain industrial field. The progress in the development of drones, AI in hives, as well as sensor technology, could be combined to form an independent fruit harvesting network.

Picture a restricted area of land with cherry trees growing on it that need to be harvested. At the beginning of a workday for the drones, when the sun starts to rise, a few of them would activate themselves and fly around the premises several times, scanning the trees while evaluating the ripeness of the fruit as well as sending the data to a central processing unit. After this process is finished the CPU would evaluate where the biggest yield is and distribute the other drones accordingly. Then between 256 and 512 drones, depending on the size of the premises, would be sent out to harvest the fruit, half of them equipped with a camera and shears, the other half with a collecting tray to catch the fruit being cut down. Utilizing the camera they would detect ripe fruit and cut them down with the shears. If either the battery runs low or the tray becomes full, they would either fly back to a loading station or deliver the fruit to a storage unit. In this manner they would continue until either the sun no longer delivered enough light to recharge the stations or the drones recognized that all of the ripe fruit had been harvested for that day.

While this is only a very short overview of the concept, I do think that it could prove itself to be quite useful in the future. The population seems to be growing indiscriminately, which means that more non-meat-based food is going to be required. Yet, at the same time, there are currently a great number of people working in agriculture, harvesting fruit by hand. As it is with most of the technical advances made nowadays, jobs are going to suffer. But then again, if robots do everything for us, who needs to work?

Marcel Fuschlberger

Student at Technikum Wien University, Austria

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