Engineering technician Scott Wolford operates
prototype harvester, side view. Conveyor belt and tray in background.
Cherries travel up conveyor belt and roll down
tray to packing box. (Web images from video .avi file, courtesy D.
Harvester Helps Kids Learn Mechanical Engineering
By Judy McBride
March 27, 2001
Most kids would love to operate the
prototype cherry harvester developed by Agricultural Research Service engineer
Donald L. Peterson.
It propels itself through a live orchard while the operator uses joy sticks
to extend and retract a mechanical arm that shakes sweet cherries loose from
their branches and drops them on a soft catching surface draped over rollers.
The rollers gently push the cherries onto a conveyor belt. There, the cherries
ride under a fan that blows away unwanted leaves before they roll into a
Its better than a video game. And the harvest tastes great.
LEGO Dactathe company that
makes LEGO blocks--thought Petersons harvester would spark imagination in
would-be engineers. It is highlighted as the Machine On the Go in
the companys newest mechanical engineering set of building plans. Each
set is designed for classroom use by middle- and high-school students to convey
engineering principles and techniques, according to project manager Tracy
Dagon and her colleagues at LEGO Dacta worked with teachers to design the
mechanical engineering set. They included action footage of Petersons
harvester in a video CD that accompanies the lesson plans.
Peterson designed and built the prototype harvester at the agencys
Appalachian Fruit Research Station in
Kearneysville, W.Va. Members of the tree fruit research commission in
Washington state--where most of the countrys sweet cherries are
grown--enlisted Petersons help in converting to mechanical harvesting
because the seasonal labor supply is becoming more questionable.
First-year field trials in Washington last summer produced very promising
results, according to Peterson. The percentage of damaged fruit was only
slightly higher with his strange-looking machine than with hand harvesting.
He is beginning to build the harvesters mate--a mirror version that
will ride down the other side of the orchard row catching cherries from
branches on the far side. Growers will have to train their trees to be
compatible with the harvester, and use a growth regulator that allows the
cherries to more easily detach from their stems.
ARS is the chief scientific research agency in the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Scientific contact: Donald L. Peterson, ARS Appalachian Fruit
Research Station, Kearneysville, W.Va., phone (304) 725-3451, ext. 324, fax
(304) 728-2340, firstname.lastname@example.org.