Project Title: Autonomous Macadamia Nut Harvester Enhancement

UA Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering logoTeam 16063 Members:
Nicklaus Arnold, systems engineering (team lead)
Lexi Corrion, biosystems engineering
Emily Evans, biomedical engineering
Hailey Ogren, biosystems engineering
Jason Stone, mechanical engineering

Sponsor: UA Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Students Helping Big Island Farms Trim Costs

Working on the Macadamia Nut HarvesterEngineering Design Team 16063 is taking on what a 2015-2016 Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering team built for Kawainui Farms – a robotic nut-harvesting prototype that looks like a low-slung wheelbarrow on steroids – and making it better.

Commercial harvesting of macadamia nuts, one of Hawaii’s most valuable cash crops, is a costly process. It requires at least three types of heavy machinery, each with a single specialized function.

Some growers, like Kawainui Farm, which has a 20-acre macadamia orchard on the Big Island, opt to harvest by hand at the end of the season after all of the nuts have fallen off the trees. But separating low-quality nuts sitting on the ground for up to three months from fresh, high-quality nuts isn’t economically viable, so the farm sells them at a reduced market price.

The 2015-2016 student prototype consisted of a vehicle platform with a hopper for carrying harvested nuts, a sweeper arm and pickup head for collecting them, and electrical components for power and navigation.

Macadamia nut harvester at Design Day 2016This year’s team is looking “to mitigate revenue loss” with design improvements – a new chassis and drive system, retooled sweeper arm, and sloped hopper to make unloading easier and faster – said team lead Nicklaus Arnold.

The team is also upgrading the motor controller’s GPS navigation, which will make a path around the orchard plotted via open-source software called Mission Planner, and improving internal sensors.

If the harvester encounters an unexpected object, explained Emily Evans, it sends an alert to farm employees via a phone app she and her teammates are developing. Other sensors notify operators when the harvester is full so it can be emptied.

Having passed its Critical Design Review and ordered parts, the team is working on assembly and testing. Since the Campus Agricultural Center doesn’t have a macadamia nut orchard, students are creating a one-acre mockup with traffic cones, including a few in unexpected places to test the collision avoidance system.

Be sure to check out the redesigned system negotiating the UA Mall at Design Day 2017 on May 1!