Fall is approaching, and soon apple-picking season will be upon us. Thankfully, students from the Clemson University Agricultural Robotics and Automation Club (CARA) have designed a miniature apple-picking robot that might one day lead to a more efficient way to harvest the beloved fall fruit.

Men standing at table watching robot.

CARA Club members watch their mini-robot simulate apple-picking.

Clemson’s mini-robot won third place on an international apple-picking simulation challenge.

CARA members, Curtis Erwin ’20, Brendan Macinnis ’20, Colin Halm ’18 and Stewart Bell ’18 took on the challenge.

The competition was held in Detroit July 30-31 and was just one component of the international American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) conference. There was a total of eight teams from China, Canada, and the United States competing in the beginner division of the apple-picking robotics competition. Teams were tasked with engineering and building a tabletop version of an apple-harvesting robot.

“There was a large area designated to the robotics competition where teams could set up their stuff at a table and do some testing before the competition,” Erwin said. “Everyone put up a scientific poster over their table that showcased their team and the miniature robots they developed, as well as background information about apples, materials and methods. It was cool to be able to walk around and see everyone’s mini-robots and posters. Most teams took different approaches to the challenge so there were a lot of diverse robot designs.

“As for the competition, there were three different color ping pong balls held by magnets onto sticks to simulate an apple orchard. Red apples were ‘ripe’, and we had to pick them and store them in the robot. Blue apples were ‘diseased’, and we had to pick them and drop them on the ground. Green apples were ‘not ripe’, so the robot had to recognize this and leave them on the ‘tree.’”

CARA was able to finish the competition within three minutes, only two minutes behind first-and-second place teams from China.

“For finishing third place in the beginner division, we won $250. However, the real reward was the experience and learning along the way, as well as the positive exposure for Clemson University and our robotics program,” Erwin said.

Bülent Koç, a member of the ASABE Robotics Competition Committee and associate professor of agricultural mechanization at Clemson University, was the advisor for the beginner team.

Robot placed on table for the competition.

CARA sets up their mini-robot for the apple-picking competition.

“They did a superb job,” said Koç. “During the time leading up to the competition, they spent countless hours working together to build and perfect the robots and software solutions.”

Clemson University’s agricultural sciences department helped sponsor the traveling expenses for the competition. CARA has also participated in this challenge twice before; placing seventh in 2017 and second in 2016.

“We owe a big thanks to Dr. Koc and the rest of the College of Agriculture Forestry and Life Sciences for sponsoring our trip to Detroit and giving us the opportunity to compete in this competition. We are glad we could represent them well with a podium finish,” said Erwin. “Partnering with more sponsors is a goal we are going to focus on this semester.”

Since the competition, the CARA has brought on 15 new members in hopes of having a beginner and advanced team in the competition next year.

Students interested in joining CARA can email clemsonagrobotics@gmail.com for more information.

Follow CARA on Twitter @CUAgRobotics, YouTube @ClemsonAgRobotics and crerwin.wixsite.com/caraclub to stay updated throughout the coming school year.