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Pick of the bunch

Complex automation

Brief

Robots are very good at doing the same thing over and over again. But they struggle with doing not quite the same thing over and over again.

Our challenge was to design a robot to pick and sort irregular organic items like fruit. The robot had to recognise the correct objects, calculate what order to pick them in, plan the grip, and then lift and place the items.

Approach

Our robot system demonstrates what is possible when you bring together experts from different fields to solve a problem.

The really difficult bit was enabling the robot to tackle objects stacked on top of one another – with the irregular shapes of the fruit making it even more complicated.

We combined our programming, electronics and mechanical engineering expertise with our machine vision and robotics skills to come up with the answer. It’s the kind of smart system that could transform a variety of industrial and commercial processes.

Benefit

In the real world, robots must be able to work around people, cope with irregular items and adapt to a changing environment.

Our robot uses machine vision and some smart software to identify which piece of fruit is on top. 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.

Nature doesn’t provide blueprints, which is why our robot system can cope with all kinds of different fruit – and even sort red apples from green ones.