NNU robotics vision lab awarded $101,000 grant to continue research on harvesting robot

Posted at 10:58 AM, Oct 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-07 18:25:03-04

NAMPA, Idaho — Northwest Nazarene University’s robotics vision lab was awarded a $101,000 grant by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

With this grant, faculty and staff working in the NNU Physics and Engineering program will continue research on their harvest robot project, OrBot.

NNU faculty and students worked to create OrBot over the last several years. OrBot is an apple-picking robot that has been designed to help farmers facing labor shortages.

"Its purpose is for helping out the labor department in the lack of people to go harvest trees," NNU senior Isaac Compher said.

The robot has been gaining national attention and has the potential to change how fruit is harvested according to NNU.

“With this system, the hope is it will supplement the labor shortage, not take away jobs from people," NNU professor of engineering Duke Bulanon said.

“This grant will help our engineering students continue to improve the performance of the fruit harvesting robot named OrBot that we have designed and built,” Bulanon said. “It will be beneficial in helping us continue to move forward with this project as we strive to meet the agricultural needs in our local area.”

According to Compher, OrBot recognizes fruit by color, but it can come with some challenges.

“Since we rely on color recognition it relies heavily on the light of the day so the system can sometimes be messed up by shadows or direct sunlight which can mess up not only the color sensor but the depth sensor we use," he said.

So, he says wants to use the grant money to research harvesting at night.

“Then people could come in and harvest what’s left on the tree,” Bulanon said.

To learn more about OrBot, click here.