Technical Comittee on: Agricultural Robotics and Automation
Program March, 2013

Paul Heinemann, Pennsylvania State University, USA: Innovative Technologies for the Thinning of Fruit

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This presentation will describe the current state of progress in the mechanization of tree fruit thinning.  Non-selective thinners have been tested and found effective for randomly removing blossoms from tree fruit to reduce the crop load.  The results have been very encouraging because these mechanical thinners greatly lower labor costs and allow growers to thin more acreage.  Modifications have been made on the Fruit-Tec Darwin string thinner.  One advancement made by Penn State and CMU researchers is the automation of the positioning of the unit within the tree canopy using distance detection sensors and hydraulic controls.  However, hand-thinning is still often required as follow-up because the non-selective thinners leave clumps of blossoms.  A more desired outcome is evenly spaced blossoms with a certain number per branch.  Work has progressed on a selective thinner that utilizes machine vision, robotics, and custom-design end effectors.  This project is supported by the USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative.


Bio: Dr. Paul Heinemann is Professor and Head of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Penn State. Dr. Heinemann joined the faculty of Agricultural and Biological Engineering as an Assistant Professor in September 1988.  He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1994 and Full Professor in 1999.  He was appointed to the head position in July 2012.  Dr. Heinemann’s teaching duties include a graduate course in biological and agricultural systems simulation in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering graduate program, and a first-year seminar course in the Biological Engineering undergraduate program.  Prior to becoming department head, he taught systems analysis, optimization, and modeling courses at the undergraduate level.  He was the Biological Engineering undergraduate program coordinator from 2000 through 2010, and Agricultural Systems Management undergraduate program coordinator from 2006 through 2010.

Dr. Heinemann’s research has focused on tree and small fruit production mechanization and automation, mushroom production, odor and emission analysis and reduction, sensor applications for produce quality evaluation, and plant tissue culture production and mechanization.  His current research is primarily focused on innovative technologies for fruit thinning and harvest assist technologies.  Dr. Heinemann received a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Agricultural Engineering from Penn State.  He received a Ph.D. in Agricultural Meteorology from the University of Florida.

Last modified: apr. 2014 by Eldert van Henten and Sam Blaauw