2 CapitalPress.com December 29, 2017 People & Places Engineer works on robotic apple picker Frank Moore uses technical background to develop harvester Western Innovator By DAN WHEAT 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 picker. 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 Moore’s accomplish- 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 material. 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 Calendar Frank Moore Age: 71 Origins: Born in Lakin, Kan., grew up on a cattle and wheat ranch in western Kansas. Family: Wife, Nancy, two daughters, two grandchil- dren. 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 idea. 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 said. 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. capitalpress.com 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@ capitalpress.com. 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@ oregonstate.edu or 541-344-1709. Cost: Free Friday-Wednesday 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 day. 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 systems. 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- tion. www.oxarc.com 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: http://nwhortsoc.com Tuesday-Wednesday 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- site: http://bit.ly/JacksonSmallFarms 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: www.directseed.org/events/annu- al-conference Tuesday-Thursday 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, Wash. an apple, reach out and pick it and get it into tubes or con- veyors in one second without bruising. 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 system. 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- ed. “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 firm. GASES / WELDING / SAFETY / FIRE 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: http://bit.ly/2iJS9t3 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- ernwaagexpo.com 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, Wash. Wednesday, Jan. 10 Wednesday-Friday 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. Website: potato-expo.com Thursday-Friday 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 mint.org 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- growers.org 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. Website: http://bit.ly/2zGUuZC 1-800-765-9055 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@ woolgrowers.org or (916) 444- 8122. 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. ly/2BpzYNT Capital Press Established 1928 Board of directors Mike Forrester Steve Forrester Kathryn Brown Susan Rana Mike Omeg Corporate Officer Heidi Wright Chief Operating Officer Capital Press Managers Joe Beach ..................Editor & Publisher Elizabeth Yutzie Sell .... Advertising Director Carl Sampson ................Managing Editor Jessica Boone ........ Production Manager Samantha McLaren .... Circulation Manager Entire contents copyright © 2017 EO Media Group dba Capital Press An independent newspaper published every Friday. 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