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Melon Machine

Melon harvesting is hard, tedious work. Now a team of Israeli and U.S. researchers has designed a vision-endowed, melon-picking robot to do the job. The machine consists of a mobile platform on which are mounted an image-processing system, air blowers and a mechanical arm with a gripper attached. As a tractor slowly pulls the platform through the field, cameras take pictures that the system analyzes. (The air blowers ruffle the foliage to expose the fruit.) When the harvester sights a melon bigger than a certain size-and therefore presumed to be ripe-it extends the gripper to grab the fruit and lift it off the ground. Knives connected to the gripper slash the stalk, and the gripper places the melon on a conveyor belt. The robot is the fruit of a collaboration among three Israeli organizations (Ben-Gurion University, the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Agricultural Research Organization) and Purdue University. It could be ready to work the fields in one to two years.

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