A combined image of the tomato robotic picker in action, picking tomatoes, and a mechanical engineering sketch of the robot and its end effector.

Tomato Harvesting End Effector

Four Growers, a Pittsburgh-based startup, assists greenhouse growers in providing local produce that is both nutritious and economical by using robotic technology that lowers production costs. When they approached Daedalus, they had a working proof-of-concept prototype of their tomato harvesting robotic end effector and they sought to transform their design into a final, manufacturable product that would be more rugged, easily cleanable, and capable of withstanding repeated use in damp and corrosive greenhouse environments.

The updated end effector had to be maintenance-free, with no need for lubrication, and it had to maintain enough accuracy between the robotic arm attachment and the end effector tube to accurately pick ready-to-harvest tomatoes. The entire end effector had to be replaceable without the need for tools, and it had to be made of easily cleanable, food-grade materials, with a smooth finish so that no edges or corners might snag vines during harvesting. Finally, it had to perform flawlessly in the presence of potentially caustic fertilizers and washdown liquids, and Four Growers wanted the new design to outperform the original prototype.

Once we understood our client’s requirements, our engineers began working with Four Growers to benchmark the performance and limitations of the existing prototype. We determined which components worked well and which needed improvement, and developed a 3D CAD design using a combination of off-the-shelf drive components and custom-designed tubes and housings. After conducting a collaborative review and gaining approval from Four Growers, we constructed a prototype of the design and provided on-site support for the initial installation. After demonstrating the design's success, we provided Four Growers with a full set of 3D design files, including drawings with tolerances to be used for manufacturing and a bill-of-materials with vendor information so that Four Growers could easily purchase the components to build the offset end effector independently.

Following the introduction of the improved tomato picking end effector, Four Growers has launched their complete robotic harvesting system to demonstrate its market fit and to continue gathering additional field data to further optimize the performance, cost-effectiveness, and scalability of their robotic harvester. For more information, visit Four Growers.

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