Technology transfer consulting company Yet2 is managing entries for the Naturipe Blue Challenge. Information is online at www.naturipechallenge.com.
The only blueberries harvested now by machine are for the frozen, juice, dried or ingredient item markets. These machines aren’t well suited or efficient for fresh harvesting, according to the grower-shipper.
“The majority of the blueberries are picked by hand at the peak of maturity and flavor,” Robert Verloop, Naturipe executive vice president of marketing, said in a news release. “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,” he said. We hope the Naturipe Blue Challenge will help solve some of our on-the-farm challenges.”
The initial proposal submission deadline is Sept. 30. Proposals received by then will get thorough responses from Yet2 by Oct. 16, according to the release, for incorporation in the final proposal submission due Oct. 30. Semifinalists will be selected Dec. 16.
In addition to receiving $250,000 in prize money, the winner or winners will have the opportunity to establish a partnership with Naturipe and to deliver improved automated blueberry harvesting technologies worldwide.
Main proposed operating specifications include: • Size and color sensing for detecting fruit maturity; • Careful handling to avoid damage to fruit; • Ability to directly fill field trays and baskets; • Harvesting capability around the clock, seven days weekly; • Average production of 500 kilograms per day; • Mobility capabilities on uneven ground or in dusty conditions; and • Fabrication costs per unit of less than $500,000.