Naturipe offers cash prize for automated blueberry harvesting solutions
Grower-owned marketer Naturipe Farms is challenging creative technology minds to innovate a better way to harvest blueberries, with an offer of US$250,000 in prize incentives for inventors of new automated solutions.
In a release, the group said its goal was to develop an automated harvesting system that could be used in blueberry fields while optimizing the quality and condition of the in-demand fresh berry, which is growing in popularity due to its nutritional benefits, versatility and overall great flavor.
Today only blueberries destined to be frozen, juiced, dried or used as an ingredient item are harvested by machine which is not efficient and not well suited for fresh blueberries.
"The majority of the blueberries are picked by hand at the peak of maturity and flavor," said Naturipe executive vice president of marketing Robert Verloop.
"However, the berries don't ripen at the same time so we return to the same bush several times during the harvest season, which is both costly and a labor intensive process.
"There has been tremendous growth and interest in agricultural technology, robotics and sensory equipment to improve harvesting efficiencies, to manage costs and to reduce food waste. We hope the 'Naturipe Blue Challenge' will help solve some of our on-the-farm challenges."
The challenge, administered by technology transfer consultancy yet2, will also offer the winner or winners an opportunity to establish a strategic partnership with Naturipe.
Main proposed operating specifications include: size/color sensing for detecting fruit maturity, careful handling to avoid any damage to the fruit, ability to directly fill field trays/baskets, 24/7 harvesting capability, average production of 500 kg/day, mobility capabilities on uneven ground or dusty conditions, and fabrication costs per unit <US$500,000.
The initial proposal submission deadline is Sept. 30, 2015 and all proposals submitted by this date ensure that they will receive thorough feedback from yet2 by Oct. 16, 2015 to be incorporated into the final proposal submission. The final proposal submission deadline is on Oct. 30, 2015. Semifinalists will be selected on Dec. 16, 2015.
Photo: Naturipe Farms