Patents, Prototypes, Manufacturing, and Marketing New Inventions
The Asparagus Harvester - New Farming Inventions
A selective asparagus harvester. That is the answer my father gave to me when I asked him if he could think of anything for me to invent. That was back in 1972. Since I've been working on it for over 30 years I'm not sure you list it along with "new farming inventions", maybe it is an old farming invention.
I thought about my dad's suggestion briefly and decided that is sounded like a good idea. Might as well think big.
Asparagus spears grow randomly across a raised bed about 30 inches wide, at least that is the way it's grown in the San Joaquin valley. The spears can grow up to 6 inches or more a day when the temperature is hot. The machine would have to determine if a spear was tall enough to be harvested, and then cut the spear off slightly below the ground and pick it up.
First I tried to figure out how to locate the spears of harvestable height. I decided on a video camera using a crude image sensor I read about in Popular Electronics. The sensor had 32 rows by 32 columns of photo sensitive elements.
I obtained the parts for the video camera project, and built some circuitry to isolate two rows of elements which I was going to use to determine the height of the spear and the direction it might be leaning if it was leaning. The circuitry seemed to work, so I continued on.
I decided that to cut the spears I would use the same asparagus knives used by the hand crews, but mounted on air driven cylinders. I was totally unaware that such cylinders existed in industry. I was planning on using bicycle pumps for the air cylinders.
I did try making giant 24" long solenoids, but the high amperage needed was a problem, and the solenoids got very hot very quickly so I abandoned that approach.
Shortly after I decided to try bicycle pumps I was talking to my wife's grand father and he told me he had been in a saw mill and had seen air cylinders that were being used in the equipment. He even called a friend of his and found out for me the name of the company that built the cylinders. Bellows Valve-Air.
At this point I had a crude detection system and an idea of how to cut the spears but little else. Certainly I had no money. I reasoned that if I was to build a prototype asparagus harvester then I would need some money.
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