Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, December 29, 2017, Page 2, Image 2

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December 29, 2017
People & Places
Engineer works on robotic apple picker
Frank Moore
uses technical
background to
develop harvester
Capital Press
PASCO, Wash. — A re-
tired Hanford Site mechani-
cal engineer has for 11 years
been seeking the holy grail of
the apple industry — a robotic
At least three companies
envision robotics as an an-
swer to the apple industry’s
labor shortages and increasing
labor costs.
“If the migrant worker
thing blows, I could see a $3
billion (tree fruit) industry
going up in smoke real quick.
That would be devastating
to the state and particularly
Central Washington,” says
Frank Moore, 71, who retired
in 2006 after 33 years in de-
sign and application of re-
mote systems for contractors
at the Hanford Site, a nuclear
production site that has been
nearly completely decom-
missioned. The contractors
included Westinghouse, Fluor
and Duke Power.
What he’s done
ments included programming
thermal hydraulics code for
Babcock & Wilcox for the
1,000-megawatt nuclear pow-
er plant at Hanford known as
WNP-1. He programmed the
plant’s automated plutonium
and uranium fuel lines and
specialized in remote opera-
tions of fuel and radioactive
In the 1980s, Moore pat-
ented an automated nuclear
fuel inspection system. He
built the in-core materials test
assembly for a test reactor
to develop a breeder reactor
program that was canceled
by the Carter administration.
He made cesium capsules for
irradiating blood for surgery
and managed a team building
shipping casks and trailers
for nuclear batteries for deep
space probes.
He’s even patented a
shock-absorbing hitch for
tractor fork lifts to haul bins
of fruit with less bouncing.
“I have a depth of experi-
ence in remote handling that
no one else has that’s working
on this (robotic apple picker).
I have access to retired and
working engineers I could
utilize if I had the funding,”
Moore says.
Working on the idea
Needing something to do
upon retirement, he picked
up the idea of an automated
apple harvester that he began
pondering in 1993 when his
son-in-law owned apple and
cherry orchards in Wenatchee.
“Labor was way too in-
expensive back then and the
Frank Moore
Age: 71
Origins: Born in Lakin,
Kan., grew up on a cattle
and wheat ranch in western
Family: Wife, Nancy, two
daughters, two grandchil-
Frank Moore demonstrates a Granny Smith apple entering his robotic picker at Goose Ridge orchard
west of Kennewick, Wash., on Dec. 3. He is one of several inventors hoping to have a robotic apple
picker ready for commercial use in the next year or two.
electronic side was too expen-
sive for it to work,” he said.
But those impediments has
been reduced by 2006 when
he retired and returned to the
He looked at the intrica-
cies and needs of apple har-
vest, including picking speed
and gentle handling to avoid
bruising. He decided suc-
tioning apples off trees with
vacuum tubes created too
much velocity and increased
bruising. His idea is an au-
tomated stem-cutting picker
with a lower-velocity vacuum
inside tubes to move apples to
a decelerator and automated
handling area where they are
washed, culls are sorted out
and good fruit goes into bins.
Some field sorting saves
money at packing houses and
washing removes sunburn
protectant dust or film and
chills the fruit, which can be
important in hot weather, he
Decelerators have been
bottlenecks in previous
non-robotic harvest assist
equipment, but Moore said he
doesn’t think his decelerator,
washing and sorting will slow
picking because his design
and technology are already
proven in his system that in-
spects 6,000 nuclear fuel pel-
lets per minute.
‘Big advantage’
What really sets his system
apart from others, he said, is
early spring imaging and data
collection. Imaging for leaf
buds assists in pruning with
a pruning head on the robot-
ic arms. Later, with different
heads, the robotic arms will
clip stems to pick the fruit.
After pruning, a second
round of imaging before
leaves emerge logs the loca-
tions of fruit buds on a vec-
tor-based image.
“The big advantage of this
is I have from April to August
to generate all the pick pro-
grams for the robotics so it in-
creases my speed significantly
on going and finding fruit,”
Sponsored by:
To submit an event go to the
Community Events calendar on the
home page of our website at www. and click on “Sub-
mit an Event.” Calendar items can
also be mailed to Capital Press,
1400 Broadway St. NE, Salem, OR
97301 or emailed to newsroom@ Write “Calendar”
in the subject line.
Thursday, Jan. 4
Ag Tech Boot Camp. 9
a.m.-4 p.m. Roy F. Christensen
Building, Idaho State University
campus, Pocatello, Idaho. Pre-
senters will feature the latest in-
novations in crop and livestock
production. Sponsored by Univer-
sity of Idaho Extension officials,
private industry representatives
and state commodity group leaders.
Cost: $30
Friday, Jan. 5
Fruit Tree Pruning Workshop. 10
a.m.-noon. How to prune apple trees
in the tall spindle system and how to
prune peach trees. Details about lo-
cation will be provided to those who
RSVP Jeff Choate at jeff.choate@ or 541-344-1709.
Cost: Free
Jan. 5-10
2018 American Farm Bureau
Federation Convention and IDEAg
Trade Show. Gaylord Opryland Re-
Education: Bachelor of sci-
ence degree in mechanical
engineering, Kansas State
University, 1969.
Dan Wheat/Capital Press
Moore said.
Pre-programming reduces
the need for a lot of light to
find fruit, so the picker can
operate about 18 hours per
Moore received a pat-
ent priority date on Aug. 25,
2009, his patent in 2016 and
created HarvestMoore LLC.
He is working to finish a
crude prototype on his “hob-
by budget” but envisions a
machine 15 to 18 feet long,
8 feet wide and with three to
four robotic picking arms on
each side to pick low, medium
and high fruit on trees on both
sides of a row.
The GPS-guided self-pro-
pelled machine will pick up
empty bins in front and de-
posit full bins out the back
and be capable of having one
to three bins on board at a
time. A low-profile model will
work with V-trellis fruit tree
His goal, like that of his
competitors, is one apple
picked per second per robotic
arm because that’s about the
speed of a human picker using
both hands.
Oxbo interest
He believes his machine
will be able to detect 99 per-
cent of fruit buds but he has
no field data on picking rate
and bruising percentages be-
cause he hasn’t done much
field testing.
He applied for a grant from
the Washington Tree Fruit
Research Commission but
says Abundant Robotics of
Hayward, Calif, beat him to
it. The commission recently
turned him down for a prun-
ing grant.
Mike Willett, commis-
sion manager, declined to say
why. Willett said the com-
mission has given Abundant
Robotics nearly $500,000
in grants and is strong-
ly supportive of its work.
He said he doesn’t know how
realistic the 2018 or 2019
goals are for commercializa-
a.m.-4:15 p.m. Clackamas County
Event Center, 694 NE Fourth Ave.,
Canby, Ore. This year’s conference
will include a vegetable crops sec-
tion on Jan. 9, an organic section in
Jan. 10 and a berry section on Jan.
11. Website:
Jan. 9-10
Developing or Expanding Your
Farm Stand or Agritourism Opera-
tion, Part 3. 5-8 p.m. OSU Extension,
Auditorium, SOREC, 569 Hanley
Road, Central Point, Ore. Are you
interested in developing or expand-
ing a farm stand or agritourism op-
eration? Jan. 10 is Accepting Food
Stamps/SNAP/EBT at a Farm Stand
or CSA and Feb. 6 is Starting a Farm
Stand/Agritourism Operation. Web-
Cropping Systems Conference.
7:30 a.m. Three Rivers Convention
Center, 7016 W Grandridge Blvd.,
Kennewick, Wash. The Conference
is sponsored by the Pacific North-
west Direct Seed Association, but
it’s not just for direct seeders. Be-
sides a robust selection of presen-
tations, it also offers six educational
tracks and a trade show. Website:
Jan. 9-11
N. Willamette Horticulture Soci-
ety Conference and Trade Show. 8
Hydraulic advice
“We’ve given him some
parts and hydraulics advice,
so we are encouraging him
but not jumping in feet-first,”
Korthuis said.
Oxbo may buy Moore’s
patent and company but it’s
too early to know, he said.
“He hoped to have it run-
ning this (past) harvest, but it
didn’t happen,” Korthuis said.
Oxbo spent at least $2
million building an apple har-
vest-assist machine several
years ago but abandoned it
because it wasn’t that much
faster than good pickers on
ladders, Korthuis said.
“I was only as fast as the
slowest picker of four on
the platform. One guy just
doesn’t pick as fast or he runs
into lots more apples than the
other three. It’s hard to keep it
productive,” he said.
While Abundant Robot-
ics of Hayward, Calif., and
FFRobotics in Israel say their
goals are robotic pickers on
the market by the 2018 fall
harvest or early 2019, Korthu-
is said university experts say
it’s “a ways off yet” because
it is difficult for a robot to find
Work history: 33 years
working for U.S. Department
of Energy contractors at
Hanford Site, Richland,
an apple, reach out and pick
it and get it into tubes or con-
veyors in one second without
Non-robotic shaker sys-
tems are used successfully for
nuts and berries.
“We’ve solved the simple
ones. It’s only the tough ones
that are left like apples, straw-
berries and peaches,” Korthu-
is said.
Viable systems
Moore believes his system
and those of Abundant Robot-
ics and FFRobotics are viable,
but his patent includes a large
amount of detail covering
picking and removing fruit. It
covers mechanical aspects of
the pruner and harvester in-
cluding imaging, fruit decel-
eration and a unique system
that locates each tree trunk by
latitude and longitude.
He expects to get a second
patent soon for his imaging
He believes the Israeli me-
chanical prongs picking fruit
and placing it on a conveyor
will be slower than clip pick-
ing and apple transport by
vacuum tubes.
The three systems, he said,
have yet to prove they are
economically feasible at the
harvest speeds that are need-
“I think I have the best
chance on economics,” Moore
said. “It will cost $300,000 to
$350,000 to build a six- to
eight-arm machine and sell it
for close to $500,000. That’s a
lot so I have to have a pick rate
that pays off in five years.”
Moore said he’s invested
$100,000, mostly in attorney
fees for patents and would like
to recoup that and 50 percent of
his hours if he were to sell his
sort and Convention Center, 2800
Opryland Drive, Nashville, Tenn.
CExplore the IDEAg Trade Show
floor to gain a stronger industry net-
work, shop featured products, learn
about innovative technologies, and
enjoy talks on the Cultivation Center
stage. Website:
Eastern Washington Ag Expo.
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, 9 a.m.-4
p.m. Wednesday. Trac Center,
6600 Burden Blvd., Pasco, Wash.
The expo features exhibitors, pes-
ticide classes, livestock handling
demonstrations, precision ag and
the second annual Cattlemen’s
Connection. Website: www.east-
Moore also is trying to
work with Oxbo International
Corp., a Byron, N.Y., manu-
facturer of harvesters for seed
corn, coffee beans, berries,
peas, green beans, olives, cit-
rus fruit and grapes.
“I want durable hydrau-
lics. I like their hydraulic
designs and see them as the
best option. They are the No.
1 choice for me. I just have to
convince them I’m the No. 1
choice for them,” Moore said.
With Oxbo’s help a full
prototype could be built and
tested next year with a goal of
commercial release in 2019,
he said.
Scott Korthuis, Oxbo ber-
ry and tree fruit product man-
ager, said Oxbo is interested
in Moore’s effort and thinks
his fruit mapping system has
merit but wants to see the ma-
chine work.
Occupation: Owner of
HarvestMoore LLC, Pasco,
Wednesday, Jan. 10
Jan. 10-12
Potato Expo 2018, 7:30 a.m.-9
p.m. Rosen Shingle Creek, 9939 Uni-
versal Blvd., Orlando, Florida. Over
the last 10 years, the Potato Expo
has gained the reputation as the best
setting for conducting business and
getting caught up on industry issues.
Jan. 11-12
Oregon Essential Oil Growers
League Annual Conference. Salis-
han Lodge, 7760 US-101, Gleneden
Beach, Ore. Featuring industry up-
20 Northwest Locations
dates. Website: oregon
Monday, Jan. 15
Sheep Producer Workshop. Et-
chamendy Sheep Company, 24394
Highway 46, Wasco, Calif. The Cal-
ifornia Wool Growers Association is
hosting four interactive workshops
focusing on improving lamb market-
ing and quality as well as producer
profitability by applying innovative
management practices and tech-
nologies. To register contact the
CWGA office at info@woolgrowers.
org or (916) 444-8122.
Tuesday, Jan. 16
Sheep Producer Workshop.
Emigh Livestock, 2838 Goose Ha-
ven Road, Suisun City, Calif. Cali-
fornia Wool Growers Association is
hosting four interactive workshops
focusing on improving lamb mar-
keting and quality as well as pro-
ducer profitability by applying inno-
vative management practices and
technologies. To register contact
the CWGA office at info@wool- or (916) 444-8122.
Soil Health Workshop with
Brendon Rockey & Steve Ken-
yon. 8 a.m.-3 p.m. The Gathering
Place, 510 South Main, Three
Forks, Mont. We have a number of
great presenters lined up through-
out the week that will share their
own experiences in building and
maintaining soil health. Cost: $20.
Wednesday, Jan. 17
Sheep Producer Workshop.
Chico State University Sheep
Unit, 311 Nicholas C Shouten
Lane, Chico, Calif. The Califor-
nia Wool Growers Association
is hosting four interactive work-
shops focusing on improving lamb
marketing and quality as well as
producer profitability.To register
contact the CWGA office at info@ or (916) 444-
Soil Health Workshop Fea-
turing Brendon Rockey & Wendy
Taheri. 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Holiday Inn,
1100 5th St. S, Great Falls, Mont.
Cost: $20. Website: http://bit.
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Capital Press Managers
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Jan. 17-18
2018 Northwest Hay Expo. 8
a.m.-4 p.m. Three Rivers Conven-
tion Center, 7016 W. Grandridge
Blvd., Kennewick, Wash. Featuring
90-plus exhibitors, top speakers
and breakout sessions covering
industry updates. Website: http://
Idaho Noxious Weed Con-
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