The number of orchard and vineyard workers in Europe may be set to drastically decline in the near future if the Cäser “fruit robot” becomes popular. Cäser is a small, totally autonomous robot designed specifically to perfrom typical orchard and vineyard chores. And the significance of this machine hitting the market stretches well beyond just interesting orchard operators. All farmers may want to take notice, because Cäser’s market introduction is an important milestone. It pushes the idea of employing self-contained field robots in all agriculture sectors another step forward.
Developed by a consortium of private firms and the Technical University of Dresden, Germany, along with funding from the European Union and Germany’s Free State of Saxony, Cäser is being introduced to the marketplace by Raussendorf Machine and Equipment Manufacturing. But it comes with a hefty 85,000 Euro price tag (about $122,400).
“It’s completely autonomous said Dr. Klaus Weidig, business manager for Raussendorf, speaking in German. “It’s now available for sale. But it’s only available in Europe.” Although he acknowledged the company might consider shipping to an overseas buyer if asked.
Guided by GPS with an RTK correction signal, Cäser can make its way along a predermined path through an orchard or vineyard performing a variety of tasks, such as fertilizing, tillage or grounds care and transporting. The little robot has four-wheel steering and is equipped with a PTO drive and hitch likage, which enables it to use some standard implements. Under the hood, Cäser has a 65 horsepower Kubota engine.
If Cäser encounters an unexpected obstruction, it has an emergency stop feature built in. For safety reasons, after encountering an obstacle it must be manually restarted. The company recommends any staff working in the area should receive special training to ensure Cäser isn’t a hazard to them, and they don’t interfere with its operation.
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It also has an impressive load capacity, capable of hauling up to 2,500 kilograms. The robot’s flat top is designed to carry standard-sized orchard crates of fruit or grapes, moving up to four loaded ones at a time. “It loads itself, then unloads the crates onto a special receiving platform,” said Weidig. It can carry up to 15 empty crates and position them at predetermined spots.
The onboard computer also maintains a continuous radio link between Cäser and a base station or other mobile communication device, reporting its location and operating status so a manager can constantly monitor it. †
Scott Garvey is machinery editor at Grainews. Contact him at [email protected].