Drone Harvester - 2016 Update

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Three x 90 second Plot Harvests Video
This video shows three examples of performing a plot harvest operation in ~90 seconds/plot.

The original field trial video is further down and it's interesting to see the progress during the last few months.

Harvest Efficacy Video

This video shows a few examples of the pickup efficiency. While the harvester is based on tried and true fingerwheel pickup method the direct drive and extra ground pressure improves the efficacy.

Changes made since April

  • Upgraded drive motors (twice)
  • Increased battery capacity
  • Rectified design fault in extractor combs causing damage to pickup fingers
  • Rectified issue with mounting of pickup fingers causing damage
  • Minor upgrades to firmware

Overall the season has gone well; most of the issues identified in the April trial have been resolved. One of the main goals for this season was to refine the drone to the point where it has very high mechanical reliability - a prerequisite for looking into autonomy. This has largely been achieved, it essentially has 100% ‘up time’ and the time between problems that need unplanned manual intervention is getting up into weeks now.

We are on track for the initial goal of doing our whole commercial harvest with the drone, over ten tonnes have been harvested it to date. The drone had a number of issues at the start of the season that made it too slow but these were largely resolved by early August. As it stands the harvest will be finished later than normal but if the unit was in its current state back in April we would have easily finished on time.

It currently harvests at about 100kg/hr in fairly poor conditions but moderately heavy crop. The nuts are also fully dehusked in field in the same process. With the planned enhancements outlined below this should come up to ~200kg/hr for the start of next season.


  • High efficacy pickup
  • Essentially zero impact on the orchard floor
  • Handles most conditions well - after rain, heavy leaves, heavy nuts.
  • Can also handle exposed roots and sticks but these can reduce the life of the pickup fingers.
  • Very reliable from mechanical point of view


  • Extractor fingers need further work
  • Performance on steep slopes not tested yet, but it does lose some grip on moderate slopes with heavy leaves
  • Steering control in rough conditions is greatly improved but still less than ideal

Planned changes to the drone unit before 2017 season

Upgrading the dehusker to a complete in-field post harvest processing system will be the major focus of the 2017 season and will be documented in due course on the Dehusker page to the left.
However there are a number of changes planned for the drone as well.

  • Upgrade electronics and add PID control loop to drive motors to improve steering
  • Further modifications to the extractor combs
  • Changes to collection baskets.
  • Investigate alternative power arrangements
  • Investigate enhancing all-terrain capability.
  • Minor upgrades to firmware

Major enhancements planned during 2017 season.

In additional to the above there are a couple of significant changes to the drone unit planned if there is enough time to get them done.

  • Fitting of locationing equipment from previous orchard mapping experiments to the drone unit, in order to record a comprehensive dataset of real world conditions as seen by the sensor package.
  • If the locationing dataset works out I might look at taking some first steps towards semi-autonomous operation late in the 2017 season.