Chances are good that strawberry lovers have consumed a berry from Florida. It’s the top strawberry-producing state from November to March and second only to California year-round – a status Harvest CROO Robotics is determined to maintain.
Robert Pitzer, chief technical officer, and the company’s team of engineers, including several students from the University of South Florida (UF), are hard at work developing an automated picking, packaging and data-storing machine.
“We’re developing automated trackers weighing about 30,000 pounds that can maneuver through fields with repeatability within an inch,” said Pitzer. “We use military-grade precision GPS to guide them and every plant in the field is mapped. I can tell you how many pounds of strawberries we pulled off a plant in a season and the quality of the berries that were picked from that plant.”
According to Pitzer, about 21 percent of the nation’s strawberry farmers have invested in the project. Many of them would have adopted the technology “yesterday,” since it integrates easily with the growing methods some have refined over more than 50 years.
The Tampa company’s proprietary vision system, which dictates which fruit should be picked based on ripeness, was heavily influenced by Pitzer. He’s been researching and developing automated processes long before co-founding Harvest CROO Robotics.
Pitzer wanted to build a robot submarine from the time he stepped foot in the Machine Intelligence Laboratory (MIL) as a student at UF. A veteran of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force, he was inspired to study automation by his previous work on submarines and their nuclear reactors.
“I walked into the lab, stood at the front and asked, ‘Who wants to build a robot submarine?’” he said. “Two people raised their hands and, before you know it, we started the UF SubjuGator program.”
UF Subjugator, the autonomous underwater vehicle project designed and built by students of the MIL, launched Pitzer into the world of robotics competitions.
He continued to compete in local competitions, as well as the televised “BattleBots” and “Robot Wars” – all while refining advanced manufacturing systems for Intel Corporation, managing his own engineering firm and launching several startups based on automated technologies. He’s also proud to have revitalized production technology for student matches hosted by the U.S. FIRST Organization (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).
It was Pitzer’s professional network with robotics enthusiasts across the U.S. that would eventually lead him to co-found Harvest CROO Robotics, where his hobby now has the potential to change the world.