Researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences have developed a robotic mechanism for picking and trimming button mushrooms, a widely grown vegetable in the state.
According to the Tech Xplore website, the prototype is designed to be integrated with a machine vision system which showed that it is capable of both picking and trimming mushrooms growing in a shelf system.
The lead author Long He, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering, said the mushroom industry has been facing labor shortages and rising labor costs. Mechanical or robotic picking can help alleviate those problems.
The mushroom industry in Pennsylvania is producing about two-thirds of the mushrooms grown nationwide, said He, adding that the US consumed pounds of button mushrooms valued at $1.13 billion from 2017 to 2018. Of this production, 91% were for the fresh market, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and were picked by hand, one by one, to ensure product quality. Labor costs for mushroom harvesting account for 15% to 30% of the production value.
The new system is equipped with a robotic arm for picking based on a bending motion, and a "4-degree-of-freedom positioning" to work with different positions and heights of shelves in which the mushrooms are grown.
It also includes a suction cup mechanism to latch onto mushrooms and conduct bruise tests on the mushroom caps to analyze the influence of air pressure and acting time of the suction.
The tests of the prototype showed that the trimming arm achieved a success rate of 97% overall, and the use of suction cup could reduce the mushroom damage usually caused by the traditional picking systems during the harvest.