Biography and Research
Dr. Renfu Lu received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Agricultural Engineering from Cornell University (1987) and Pennsylvania State University (1990), respectively. He had a B.S. degree in Engineering specializing in Agricultural Machinery from Zhejiang Agricultural University (now Zhejiang University) in China in 1981. Dr. Lu has been a Research Agricultural Engineer with USDA-ARS since 1994 and served as Research Leader for the research unit since 2007. He has also been an adjunct associate professor (1999-2006) and adjunct professor (2006- present) with the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. Prior to joining USDA-ARS, he was a research assistant professor (1994) and research associate (1990-1993) with the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Dr. Lu’s research is focused on sensors and automation for harvest and nondestructive quality evaluation of fruits and vegetables. He has made many original contributions in the development and application of acoustics, near-infrared spectroscopy, hyperspectral imaging, light scattering, mechanical and optical property measurement, structured-light imaging, and apple robotic harvesting and infield sorting technologies. He has authored or co-authored 141 peer-reviewed journal papers, 2 patents (1 pending), 17 book chapters, 105 conference proceeding papers and 33 other publications. His research papers have been cited more than 9,800 times (as of April 5 of 2021 by Google Scholar). Dr. Lu has edited two technical books and served as a guest editor for three special issues for two international journals. He has held numerous leadership positions with the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), including chair of Publications Council (2016-2018), Refereed Publications Committee (2014-2016), and Food and Process Engineering Division (2012-2013). He has served as an editor (2009-2015) and associate editor (2002-2009) for Transactions of the ASABE and the journal of Applied Engineering in Agriculture and on the editorial board of two international journals. For his scientific contributions, Dr. Lu has received many prestigious awards, among which are Rain Bird Engineering Concept of the Year Award (2019) and 10 journal and conference paper awards (1997-2019) from ASABE, a Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) Technology Transfer Award (2009), and an Outstanding Alumni Award from the College of Agricultural Sciences, Pennsylvania State University (2011). He was inducted as an ASABE Fellow in 2013.
Dr. Lu currently leads a research team, aiming at developing an innovative robotic technology for automated harvesting of apples and a new generation of imaging technology with substantially enhanced capabilities for quality inspection of fruits and vegetables (e.g., pickling cucumber and tomato) during postharvest handling. Based on the new concept of using a vacuum-based manipulation mechanism, a robotic harvesting system is being built for fast picking of apples in orchard. A stereo imaging system, coupled with machine learning algorithms, is used for fruit detection and localization. Intelligent planning and coordination algorithms will be developed and implemented to optimize the fruit harvesting operations by the multi-armed robot. The new robotic system will be integrated with the recently developed apple harvest and infield sorting machine, to enable automated harvesting, sorting, grading and tracking of apples in the orchard. Moreover, a new imaging system, using our newly developed technique of improved reflectance for imaging structures (IRIS), is being designed and built to enable rapid, real-time inspection of harvested horticultural products for quality-degrading defects caused by bruising, physiological disorders, and disease infection. The new knowledge and technologies generated from the research will enable growers and packers/processors to achieve significant labor and cost savings in harvesting, enhance product marketability, and reduce postharvest product loss.
Two Figures for Engineering Program
Figure 1: The apple harvest and infield sorting machine, developed by the unit’s engineering research team, has a patented machine vision-based inspection system that enables to grade and sort harvested apples into fresh-market and processing quality grades at a speed of up to 10-12 fruit per second. The machine is also integrated with automated, computer-controlled systems for handling graded fruit and empty and full bins. In addition, the adjustable harvest platforms on the machine enable pickers to conveniently and quickly release harvested fruit into the specially designed catching devices, which are then sent to the fruit sorting system for quality inspection.
Figure 2: The unit’s engineering research team, in collaboration with Michigan State University, has developed a new robotic apple harvesting prototype. This robot prototype utilizes a simple tilting and panning mechanism, along with a pneumatic linear actuator, for achieving fast movement of the robot for apple picking. The robot’s picking arm is composed of a small-size vacuum tube with a specially designed soft end effector, which first sucks and holds a target fruit and then rotates to detach the fruit from the tree. This robot is simpler in design and more dexterous in picking fruit in clusters or inside the canopy.