InsightTRAC autonomously removes almond mummies with pellet gun
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The Mobile Robot Guide attended the 2022 World Ag Expo in Tulare, California. At the show, all kinds of agriculture related vendors demonstrated their solutions to prospective buyers.
We had the opportunity to see a demo of a unique new autonomous agriculture robot by InsightTRAC, and interview the inventor, founder and CEO of the company, Anna Haldewang.
The company was founded in 2019, and is headquartered in Syracuse, Indiana. However, the biggest market for their solution is in California, so they were in attendance of the World Ag Expo, to meet the growers who can benefit from the solution.
Mobile Robot Guide (MRG)
Hi Anna, tell us a little bit about the origin of InsightTRAC and what you have developed here.
Anna Haldewang (CEO and founder, InsightTRAC)
So we’ve invented an autonomous method that doesn’t rely on weather or labor to get down to two or fewer mummies per tree.
What is a mummy, that’s not a term that I am familiar with?
During the almond harvest, not every almond is ready to come off the tree during the shake. So in the winter, when the leaves fall off the trees, those leftover almonds then turn rotten, and they’re called “mummies”.
And there’s a pest called navel orange worm which is the number one pest problem for almond growers. The orange worms burrow inside of these mummies in the wintertime, and then in spring emerge in to a moth that will damage the quality and the yield of next year’s crop.
Editors Note: The following video shows the live demo of the InsightTRAC Rover at the World Ag Expo as it targets and removes almond mummies from the trees. Pay attention to how quickly it uses vision to ID the mummies and then target and remove them. In this specific demo, the robot occasionally got confused by the shadow outline of a mummy on a branch as projected by the late afternoon sun onto the blue background of the booth.
So the worm eats the almond nut inside the shell?
The worm consumes the nut and then hibernates in the drupe (becoming a mummy). The full grown moth will eat the the new crop. And so the best time to get rid of this costly pest when it’s at its weakest, when it’s hibernating inside of these mummies.
The current methods bring shakers through that they use during the harvest. They will shake the bottoms of the trunks for a few seconds and those mummies will drop. However, that only works during a fog or after rain when mummies are heavy.
If a grower comes through on a bright, dry afternoon day, it’s (the mummy) just not coming off the tree. As a last resort, they have to hire hand pullers to come in with 15 foot bamboo sticks, and they will hit and they will poke each of these trees. So as you can imagine, it’s pretty costly. It’s back breaking work. Nobody wants to do this.
What’s the return on investment for this process? It has to be done as part of the almond growing process?
It’s like a maintenance on the tree. It’s sanitation the tree. So that’s why we created this product so that you don’t have to rely on that the manual labor, or the weather (to provide an opportunity to re-shake the tree).
If a mummy falls to the ground, and still has the moth larva in it, is it still gonna continue to live or does it die?
It has less of a chance of survival rate on the ground, but you still need to take a sweeper through the orchard and sweep the mummies to the center of the rows and then you need to pick them up and destroy them.
Okay, so talk about this autonomous mummy removal solution that you’ve built and tell to me about the go to market for your solution.
We’ve invented an autonomous method that uses cameras and machine learning to identify the mummies on the trees. And once it identifies those mummies on the trees, it then maps the fastest and the quickest route out to all those mummies in a few seconds. From there it then removes each mummy in one second by shooting it with a biodegradable pellet. So it’s essentially like an airsoft gun on tracks.
That’s a novel solution. So is this generation one that we’re seeing at the show today? Is this what’s going to be going to production or is this still a prototype?
This is Rover 2.0, and last year, we had Rover 1.0. We’ve been in California for the last 12 months, during this past growing season. From the lessons learned on this trip we did paid pilots, and we did a lot of public demos.
We also have some awesome growers who are interested in purchasing the first unit. After this trip, we will then transition to Rover 3.0. We’ll take Rover 3.0 out to Australia with us in June and July 2022, where we partner with a large scale grower over there. From there, we will then deliver our first round of Rovers to growers in Q4 2022.
Those will be production units? California certainly is the biggest almond growing region in North America, right?
Correct. California grows 86% of the world’s almonds.
Is there anything else automated on the market that removes mummies the way that the InsightTRAC Rover does?
This is the first of its kind. InsightTRAC has a lot of benefits. We work 24/7. And we can work at night. Usually have we have floodlights on it. So it lights up the whole trees, we’re accurate up to 30 feet. And, we can shoot young trees, older trees.
What’s great about this product is we only have contact with the mummies. So we’re allowed an extra few weeks of the season all the way up until full bloom at removing these mummies from a tree. So we’re not knocking buds off, which impacts next year’s yield.
Are you selling this as a robot as a service or are you selling the rover to growers?
We will be selling the rovers directly to the grower. While we are focused on winter sanitation at this time, we will shift into operations for other parts of the season. So what the grower is purchasing is the base unit, and more functionality will come over time, and the majority of it will be like a software update for other operations.
To learn more about the InsightTrac Rover 2.0, goto their website.