Title:
Fruit harvester
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A fruit harvester comprises a harvester body structure (410, 420) extendable about a fruit tree (10). The harvester body structure (410, 420) includes a picking head frame (410) and a fruit collection receptacle (420). A plurality of inwardly directed fruit removal devices, which may be in the form of flexible rods, are spaced along the picking head frame (410) for removing fruit from the tree (10). The harvester body structure (410, 420) is also movable along an arcuate track (467) for ease in fruit collection.



Inventors:
Hawke, Anthony Ernest (New South Wales, AU)
Application Number:
10/505623
Publication Date:
08/18/2005
Filing Date:
02/21/2003
Assignee:
HAWKE ANTHONY E.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A01D46/26; (IPC1-7): B65B1/20
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
TORRES, ALICIA M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BGL (CHICAGO, IL, US)
Claims:
1. A fruit harvester picking head comprising: a picking head frame, a plurality of elongate flexible rods, each said rod extending from a first end of said rod, mounted on said picking head frame for pivotal displacement about a pivot axis, to a free second end of said rod, and means for pivotally vibrating each said rod about the associated said pivot axis, wherein said rods and said means for pivotally vibrating said rods are configured such that, in use, said rods flex into a generally sinusoidal form as they are pivotally vibrated.

2. The fruit harvester picking head of claim 1 wherein each said pivot axis is a vertical axis.

3. The fruit harvester picking head of claim 2 wherein said rods are also each configured to pivot about a horizontal axis, said harvester being provided with means to pivot each said rod about its respective said horizontal axis.

4. The fruit harvester picking head of claim 1 wherein each said rod has a length of at least 1 metre.

5. A fruit harvester comprising: a harvester body structure extendable about a fruit tree and being in the form of two segments relatively displaceable between an open configuration for extending about the tree and a closed configuration for surrounding the tree, said harvester body structure including a picking head frame in the form of two ring segments, each said harvester body structure segment including a said picking head frame ring segment; a plurality of inwardly directed fruit removal devices spaced along said picking head frame for removing fruit from the tree; a base assembly including at least one arcuate track extending between a lower track end and an upper track ends, a carriage mounted on said arcuate track(s) with said harvester body structure being mounted on said cartridge; and means for driving said cartridge along said arcuate track(s) between said lower and upper track ends, wherein said picking head frame is positioned in a generally horizontal orientation extending from said base assembly when said carriage is located at said track lower end and said harvester body structure is positioned generally above said base assembly when said carriage is located at said track upper end.

6. The fruit harvester of claim 5 wherein said harvester frame structure segments are mounted on said carriage by way of laterally displaceable mounts and means for laterally displacing said harvester body structure segments between said open configuration and said closed configuration.

7. The fruit harvester of claim 6 wherein said means for laterally displacing said harvester body structure segments comprise hydraulic actuators.

8. The fruit harvester of claim 5 wherein said base assembly further includes a platform, said arcuate track(s) being laterally displaceable with respect to said platform between a retracted position and an extended position.

9. The fruit harvester of claim 8 wherein said track(s) are displaceable by way of one or more hydraulic actuators.

10. The fruit harvester of claim 5 wherein said base assembly further includes means for self-propelling said fruit harvester.

11. The fruit harvester of claim 5 wherein said base assembly further includes a self-levelling suspension system.

12. The fruit harvester of claim 5 wherein said harvester body structure segments are pivotally mounted with respect to each other.

13. The fruit harvester of claim 5 wherein said harvester body structure further comprises means for vertically displacing said picking head frame.

14. The fruit harvester of claim 13 wherein said picking head frame is mounted on a plurality of longitudinally extending support members, said means for vertically displacing said picking head frame being adapted to drive said picking head frame along said support members.

15. The fruit harvester of claim 13 wherein said means for vertically displacing said picking head frame comprises a plurality of scissor lifts.

16. The fruit harvester of claim 5 wherein said harvester body structure further comprises a fruit collection receptacle for receiving fruit falling from the tree, said fruit collection receptacle being arranged generally beneath said picking head frame and being adapted to extend about the trunk of the tree, said fruit collection receptacle being in the form of two receptacle segments with each said harvester body structure segment including a said receptacle segment.

17. The fruit harvester of claim 16 wherein a cut out portion is formed at a junction formed between said two receptacle segments in said closed configuration for receiving the trunk.

18. The fruit harvester of claim 17 wherein flexible flaps are mounted on each said receptacle segment at said cut out portion for sealing between the trunk and said receptacle segments at said cut out portion when said harvester body structure is in said closed configuration.

19. The fruit harvester of claim 16 wherein said fruit collection receptacle is provided with conveyor means for retrieving fruit from said fruit collection receptacle.

20. The fruit harvester of claim 5 wherein said fruit removal devices each comprise an elongate flexible rod pivotally mounted on said picking head frame, said harvester being provided with means to pivotally vibrate said flexible rods.

21. The fruit harvester of claim 20 wherein said flexible rods and said means to pivotally vibrate said flexible rods are configured such that, in use, said flexible rods vibrate in a sinusoidal manner.

22. The fruit harvester of claim 5 wherein said fruit removal devices each comprise an air delivery port for delivering air under pressure to the tree.

23. The fruit harvester of claim 22 wherein said picking head frame is provided with a plurality of inwardly directed air delivery tubes, each said air delivery tube being provided with a said air delivery port at the inward end thereof.

24. The fruit harvester of claim 23 wherein said air delivery tubes are each pivotally mounted on said picking head frame about a horizontal axis, said harvester being provided with means for pivotally displacing said air delivery tubes.

25. The fruit harvester of claim 22 wherein said harvester is provided with a valve arrangement adapted to provide discrete blasts of air through said air delivery ports.

26. The fruit harvester of claim 25 wherein said valve arrangement is adapted to alternate said discrete blasts of air between separate groups of said air delivery ports.

Description:

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates to apparatus for harvesting fruit, and in particular relates to a fruit harvester especially suitable for harvesting olives and nuts.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Various methods have been employed to harvest fruit, and in particular olives and macadamia nuts. Apart from the labour intensive method of hand picking, two main mechanical types of harvesters have been employed in the harvesting of olives.

One form of mechanical harvester uses cylindrical shaped picking heads comprising a centre hub with rigid picking rods of less than 400 mm in length extending radially outwardly from the hub. The cylindrical head has a rotating and oscillating motion which, when pushed into the olive tree, agitates the branches with sufficient energy to cause olives to drop. This harvester can only harvest one side of a tree at a time, with the rigid rods extending outwardly from the centre hub agitating the branches to such a degree that massive leaf and branch damage is caused. Further, with the picking rods only being relatively short, it usually becomes necessary to push the hub itself into the tree to provide sufficient reach for the picking rods in toward the centre of the tree. Impact of the hub on the branches of the tree causes further severe damage. Suction is applied to the tree from the harvester directly beneath the fingers to draw falling olives into a chute. A large number of harvested olives are also lost, falling onto the ground rather than being drawn into the chute by the suction action.

The second main type of harvesting machine employed grips the base of the tree trunk and vibrates the tree in an attempt to shake the olives from their branches. This harsh vibrating action, however, damages the trunk and interferes with the tree root system, affecting future growth. Also, the tree trunk needs to be pruned up to 1.5 metres high to allow the apparatus to grip the trunk. This results in the tree lacking stability without the foliage toward the bottom of the trunk and so the trees are generally required to be staked to provide stability, at least in their younger years. Also, with a need to prune the bottom 1.5 metres of the tree, an extra twelve months of growth of the tree is required before it can be harvested as compared to other methods where no lower trunk pruning is required.

OBJECT OF THE INVENTION

It is an object of the present invention to overcome or substantially ameliorate at least one of the above disadvantages.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In a broad form the present invention provides a fruit harvester picking head comprising:

    • a picking head frame,
    • a plurality of elongate flexible rods pivotally mounted on and extending from said picking head frame, and
    • means for pivotally vibrating said flexible rods.

Preferably, said flexible rods and said means to pivotally vibrate said rods are configured such that, in use, said flexible rods vibrate in a sinusoidal manner.

Preferably, said rods are configured to vibrate about a vertical axis.

Preferably, said rods are also each configured to pivot about a horizontal axis, said harvester being provided with means to pivot each said rod about its respective said horizontal axis.

Preferably, each said rod has a length of at least 1 metre.

In another broad form, the present invention provides a fruit harvester comprising:

    • a harvester body structure extendable about a fruit tree, said harvester body structure including a picking head frame; and
    • a plurality of inwardly directed fruit removal devices spaced along said picking head frame for removing fruit from the tree.

Typically, said harvester body structure is in the form of two segments relatively displaceable between an open configuration for extending about the tree and a closed configuration for surrounding the tree, said picking head frame being in the form of two ring segments, each said harvester body structure segment including a said picking head frame ring segment.

In a particularly preferred form said fruit harvester further comprises a base assembly including at least one arcuate track extending between a lower track end and an upper track end,

    • a carriage mounted on said arcuate track(s) with said harvester body structure being mounted on said carriage, and
    • means for driving said carriage along said arcuate track(s) between said lower and upper track ends,
    • wherein said picking head frame is positioned in a generally horizontal orientation extending from said base assembly when said carriage is located at said track lower end and said harvester body structure is positioned generally above said base assembly when said carriage is located at said track upper end.

Typically, said harvester frame structure segments are mounted on said carriage by way of laterally displaceable mounts and means for laterally displacing said harvester body structure segments between said open configuration and said closed configuration.

Preferably, said means for laterally displacing said harvester body structure segments comprise hydraulic actuators.

Preferably, said base assembly further includes a platform, said arcuate track(s) being laterally displaceable with respect to said platform between a retracted position and an extended position.

Preferably, said track(s) is/are displaceable by way of one or more hydraulic actuators.

Preferably, said base assembly further includes means for self-propelling said fruit harvester.

Preferably, said base assembly further includes a self-levelling suspension system.

In another form said harvester body structure segments are pivotally mounted with respect to each other.

Preferably said harvester body structure further comprises means for vertically displacing said picking head frame.

In one form, said picking head frame is mounted on a plurality of longitudinally extending support members, said means for vertically displacing said picking head frame being adapted to drive said picking head frame along said support members.

In a preferred form, said means for vertically displacing said picking head frame comprises a plurality of scissor lifts.

Preferably, said harvester body structure further comprises a fruit collection receptacle for receiving fruit falling from the tree, said fruit collection receptacle being arranged generally beneath said picking head frame and being adapted to extend about the trunk of the tree, said fruit collection receptacle being in the form of two receptacle segments with each said harvester body structure segment including a said receptacle segment.

Typically, a cut out portion is formed at a junction formed between said two receptacle segments in said closed configuration for receiving the trunk.

Preferably, flexible flaps are mounted on each said receptacle segment at said cut out portion for sealing between the trunk and said receptacle segments at said cut out portion when said harvester body structure is in said closed configuration.

Typically, said fruit collection receptacle is provided with conveyor means for retrieving fruit from said fruit collection receptacle.

In a preferred form, said fruit removal devices each comprise an elongate flexible rod pivotally mounted on said picking head frame, said harvester being provided with means to pivotally vibrate said flexible rods.

Preferably, said flexible rods and said means to pivotally vibrate said flexible rods are configured such that, in use, said flexible rods vibrate in a sinusoidal manner.

In one form, said fruit removal devices each comprise an air delivery port for delivering air under pressure to the tree, said picking head frame may be provided with a plurality of inwardly directed air delivery tubes, each said air delivery tube being provided with a said air delivery port at the inward end thereof.

Typically said air delivery tubes are each pivotally mounted on said picking head frame about a horizontal axis, said harvester being provided with means for pivotally displacing said air delivery tubes.

Preferably, said harvester is provided with a valve arrangement adapted to provide discrete blasts of air through said air delivery ports.

Preferably, said valve arrangement is adapted to alternate said discrete blasts of air between separate groups of said air delivery ports.

In yet another broad form the present invention provides a fruit collection receptacle for receiving fruit falling from a fruit tree during harvest thereof, said fruit collection receptacle being formed of two receptacle segments relatively displaceable between an open configuration for extending said receptacle about the trunk of the tree and a closed configuration for surrounding the trunk. Typically a cut out portion is formed at a junction formed between said two receptacle segments in said closed configuration for receiving the trunk.

Typically, said receptacle segments are pivotally mounted with respect to each other.

Preferably, said receptacle segments are laterally displaceable with respect to each other.

Preferably, flexible flaps are mounted on each said receptacle segment at said cut out portion for sealing between the trunk and said receptacle segments at said cut out portion when said receptacle is in said closed configuration.

Typically, said receptacle is provided with conveyor means for retrieving fruit from said receptacle.

Typically, said receptacle is angularly displaceable about a horizontal axis generally perpendicular to a plane defined by said junction.

Typically said receptacle is adapted to be mounted to a tractor or the like.

Said receptacle may be provided with a walkway around a periphery thereof.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Preferred forms of the present invention will now be described by way of example with reference to the accompanying drawings wherein:

FIG. 1 is a plan view of a fruit harvester in a closed configuration.

FIG. 2 is a plan view of the fruit harvester of FIG. 1 in the open configuration.

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of the fruit harvester of FIG. 1 in-situ surrounding a tree.

FIG. 4 is a schematic view of a valve arrangement of the fruit harvester of FIG. 1.

FIG. 5 is a fragmentary side elevation view of an air delivery tube of the fruit harvester of FIG. 1.

FIG. 6 is a side elevation view of the fruit harvester of FIG. 1 mounted to a front end loader.

FIG. 7 is a perspective view of a fruit collection receptacle.

FIG. 8 is a schematic plan view of the fruit collection receptacle of an alternate fruit harvester in a closed configuration.

FIG. 9 is a side elevation view of the fruit harvester of FIG. 8 mounted to a front end loader.

FIG. 10 is a cross sectional side elevation view of the fruit harvester of FIG. 8.

FIG. 11 is a schematic plan view of the frame of the fruit harvester of FIG. 8 in the open configuration.

FIG. 12 is a schematic plan view of detail of the picking head frame and flexible rods of FIG. 11.

FIG. 13 is a schematic plan view of the vibrating rod drive arrangement of the harvester of FIG. 8.

FIG. 14 is a front elevation view of the arrangement of FIG. 13.

FIG. 15 is a side elevation view of another fruit harvester with the arcuate track thereof in a retracted position.

FIG. 16 is a side elevation view of the harvester body structure and arcuate track of the fruit harvester of FIG. 15.

FIG. 17 is a front elevation view of the arcuate track and carriage of the fruit harvester of FIG. 15.

FIG. 18 is a side elevation view of the fruit harvester of FIG. 15 with the arcuate track thereof in an extended position.

FIG. 19 is a side elevation view of the fruit harvester of FIG. 15 with the harvester body structure thereof in a horizontal and lowered position.

FIG. 20 is a side elevation view of the fruit harvester of FIG. 15 with the harvester body structure thereof in an elevated position.

FIG. 21 is a front elevation view of the fruit harvester of FIG. 15 with the harvester body structure thereof in an elevated and open configuration.

FIG. 22 is a front elevation view of the fruit harvester of FIG. 15 with the harvester body structure thereof in an elevated and closed configuration.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

With reference to FIGS. 1 to 6, a fruit harvester 100 comprises a harvester body structure including a picking head frame 110 which is extendable about a fruit tree 10. A plurality of inwardly directed air delivery tubes 111 are provided on the picking head frame, with each air delivery tube 111 being provided with an air delivery port 112 at the inwardly facing end thereof for delivering air under pressure to a tree 10 located within the picking head frame 110 during use. The air delivery ports 112 form fruit removal devices for removing fruit from a tree 10.

The picking head frame 110 is here in the form of a ring formed of two ring segments 113 which are relatively displaceable between an open configuration as depicted in FIG. 2, providing an opening enabling the ring 110 to be extended about the tree 10, and a closed configuration as depicted in FIGS. 1 and 3 where the ring 110 surrounds the tree 10.

The ring 110 is mounted on longitudinally extending support members 114. Means are provided for vertically displacing the ring 110 by driving the ring along the support members 114. The mounting and drive arrangement will typically be a chain-driven forklift-type lift arrangement, however any suitable lifting mechanism can be provided.

The harvester body structure further includes a fruit collection receptacle 120 arranged generally beneath the ring 110, and similar to the ring 110 is adapted to extend about the trunk 11 of the tree 10. The fruit collection receptacle 120 is formed of two receptacle segments 121 which, again in a similar manner to the ring segments 113, are relatively displaceable between an open configuration as depicted in FIG. 2 and a closed configuration as depicted in FIGS. 1 and 3 where the receptacle segments 121 abut and surround the trunk 11. A cut-out portion 122 is formed at the junction between the two receptacle segments 121 when in the closed configuration for receiving the trunk 11. Whilst in the depicted embodiment the cut-out portion 122 is formed partly in each of the two receptacle segments 121, it is envisaged that the cut-out portion 122 might be off-set and formed solely in one of the receptacle segments 121. Flexible rubber flaps 123 are mounted on each receptacle segment 121 at the cut-out portion 122 so as to seal between the tree trunk 11 and the receptacle segments 121 at the cut-out portion 122 when the receptacle is in the closed configuration. The flaps might be arranged to extend right along the junction between the receptacle segments 121 so as to avoid any possible gap therebetween. With such flaps extending along the junction, the cut-out portion might not be required, relying on deformation of the flaps to receive the tree trunk 12.

Both the ring frame segments 113 and fruit collection receptacle segments 121, forming harvester body structure segments, are pivotally mounted with respect to each other to enable the displacement between the open and closed configurations. The support members 114, to which the ring segments 113 are mounted, are themselves fixedly mounted to the periphery of the receptacle segments 121, such that each ring segment 113 remains directly above the corresponding receptacle segment 121 and relative pivotal movement of the receptacle segments 121 between the open and closed configurations results in corresponding pivotal relative displacement between the ring segments 113.

Each of the receptacle segments 121 is pivotally mounted about a pivot point 124 provided on a support structure 130. A receptacle open/close ram 125 is mounted at the cylinder end 125a thereof to the support structure 130 and at the rod end 125b thereof to a linkage 126 provided with slots 126a which engage with pins 127 provided on the receptacle segments 121 off-set from the receptacle segment mount pivot points 124. Extension of the ram rod 125b causes the slotted linkage 126 to drive the pins 127 outwardly, creating a moment about the pivot points 124 tending to open the receptacle segments to the open configuration, whilst retraction of the ram rod of the ram 125 pulls the pins 127 inwardly, creating a reverse moment tending to pivot the receptacle segments toward the closed configuration. With the ring segments 113 being directly connected to the receptacle segments 121 via the support members 114, action of the receptacle open/closed ram 125 also acts to open and close the ring segments 113.

With reference to FIG. 6, the receptacle 120 is further supported by support arms 131 extending between a lower region of the support structure 130 and a lower region of the receptacle 120. The fruit harvester 100 may be mounted to a tractor, front end loader or the like, typically by way of the support structure 130. In FIG. 6 the fruit harvester 100 is mounted to a front end loader 200, with the lower portion of the support structure 130 being pivotally mounted to the forward end of the load drive arms 201 of the front end loader 200. A tilt ram 132 fastens the upper portion of the support structure 130 to the front of the front end loader 200, whereby the entire fruit harvester structure can be angularly displaced about a horizontal axis generally perpendicular to the junction between the receptacle segments. This enables the receptacle to be tilted down if required to extend around the trunk of a tree under any foliage extending down the tree trunk. With the support structure being mounted on the front end loader load drive arms 201, it is also possible to raise and lower the entire fruit harvester structure by raising and lowering the drive arms 201. When the fruit harvester is arranged to be secured to a tractor, however, this vertical displacement of the entire fruit harvester structure will not typically be available, however mechanisms may be incorporated to provide such vertical displacement of the fruit harvester if desired.

The ring picking head frame 110 will typically have a diameter of the order of five metres to enable it to extend about most mature olive trees. When the fruit harvester is to be utilised for other forms of fruit, including perhaps macadamia nuts, other diameters of ring frame may be more suitable. The number of air delivery tubes 111 can be varied to suit, however the present inventor envisages that sixteen to eighteen air delivery tubes 111 would be appropriate. The air delivery tubes 111 will typically have a length of the order of 1 metre. Accordingly, when the air delivery tubes are pointed directly radially inwardly from the ring 110, air delivered through the air delivery ports 112 at the ends of the air delivery tubes 111 will be directed from a radius of approximately 1.5 metres from the centre of the ring (and centre of the tree).

With particular reference to FIG. 5, the air delivery tubes 111 are typically pivotally mounted to the ring picking head frame 110, with a drive mechanism being provided to actively pivotally displace the air delivery tubes 111 progressively between a horizontal position at which they extend directly radially inwardly from the ring and raised and/or lowered positions where the air delivery tubes 111 point upwardly or downwardly with respect to the horizontal, thereby reducing the horizontal distance that the air delivery tubes project into the tree 10. The drive mechanism for pivoting the air delivery tubes 111 may be in the form of a flexible cable 115 off-set from the attachment point of the air delivery tube 111 to the ring 110, with the cable 115 being driven by a geared hydraulic motor or similar to raise or lower the air delivery tubes 111.

A spring-biased air ejector 116 will typically be provided at the air delivery port 112. The ejector 116 is spring-biased to keep the port closed until a predetermined pressure is achieved, typically of the order of 480 to 550 kPa (70 to 80 psi), thereby ensuring an energetic blast of air is delivered to the tree being harvested. When the pressure reduces below the pressure required to maintain the spring-biased ejector open, the ejector will again close until sufficient pressure rebuilds for a further blast of air. Accordingly, discrete blasts of air can be delivered to the tree.

Air for delivering to the tree through the air inlet ports 112 will typically be stored in pressurised air tanks 117 mounted beneath the receptacle 120. The air tanks 117 and air delivery tubes 111 will communicate via air lines passing up the support members 114 and through the hollow interior of the ring frame 110. A power take-off compressor 202, powered by the engine of the tractor/front end loader 200 is arranged to keep the air tanks 117 pressurised.

To avoid the requirement for an excessively large compressor, it is preferred that the air delivery arrangement be configured so as to alternate discrete blasts of air between separate groups of air delivery ports 112. Accordingly, at any time only a fraction of the total number of air delivery ports 112 will be supplied air, increasing the pressure available to these individual air delivery ports when active. Such an air delivery management system can conveniently be provided through a valve arrangement 140 as schematically depicted in FIG. 4. A camshaft 145 extends through an elongate chamber 141 in fluid communication with the air delivery tanks 117. A series of valves 142 seal and unseal individual outlets 143 from the chamber 141 as the valves 142 are displaced by the cam lobes 144 of the rotating another camshaft 145. Each chamber outlet 143 communicates with a group of air delivery ports 112. The “firing” order of the air delivery ports, and grouping thereof, can be configured as desired through design of the air delivery management system.

Further fixed air delivery ports 129 may be provided on the receptacle segments 121, toward the base of the tree for removing fruit from the lower portion of the tree.

A pair of conveyor belts 128 are provided in each of the receptacle segments 121, extending from adjacent the lowest point thereof, which will typically be adjacent the cut-out portions 122, through the wall of the receptacle segments to above a bin 203 fixed to the forward end of the tractor/front end loader 200. The conveyor belts 128 are fixed in relation to the receptacle segments 121 in such a manner that they will pivot apart as the receptacle segments 121 pivot apart to the opened configuration. Fruit falling into the receptacle is accordingly retrieved therefrom by the conveyor belt 128, and dropped into the bin 203. An auger 204 is here provided, communicating between the base of the bin 203 to the rear of the tractor, where a chute 205 drops the harvested fruit into a crate 206. The auger 204 is driven by a hydraulic motor 207.

In use, trees are pruned, if required, to a maximum diameter of five metres for harvesting by the fruit harvester where the internal ring diameter is five metres as discussed above. The tractor or front end loader 200 to which the fruit harvester 100 is mounted is driven up to a fruit tree ready to be harvested, and the fruit collection receptacle 120 and picking head frame 110 are extended about the tree in the open configuration. The receptacle open/close ram 125 is then activated to pivot the receptacle and ring picking head frame segments 121, 113 into the closed position, surrounding the is tree to be harvested. The rubber flaps 123 will seal any gap between the receptacle segments 121 and the tree trunk 11 at the cut-out portions 122. At this stage the air delivery tubes 111 will typically be in a lowered position, such that they do not protrude into the tree any significant distance. Air is delivered through the air delivery tubes and ports 111, 112 with the air delivery tubes 111 in the lowered position, blasting fruit from the outer portions of the tree. As olive trees are typically relatively dense, the air blasts will not penetrate deeply in toward the centre of the tree, and accordingly the air delivery tubes 111 are raised to the horizontal position where they extend deepest into the tree, and further discrete blasts of air are directed into the tree to remove fruit located further toward the centre of the tree.

Fruit which is blasted from the tree will fall into the receptacle 120, be transported up the conveyors 128, dropped into the bin 203, up the auger 204, down the chute 205 and into crate 206 at the rear of the tractor. Once fruit has been blasted from the tree at a particular level, the ring picking head frame 110 can be driven up or down to remove fruit from the next level of the tree. The sequence of vertically displacing the picking head frame 110 and pivoting the air delivery tubes 111 can be varied to suit. A first pass displacing the picking head frame upwards along the support members 114 from adjacent the receptacle 120 may be made with the air delivery tubes 111 in the horizontal position, then a further downward pass being made with the air delivery tubes 111 deflected downward so as to direct air to the fruit around the outer regions of the tree. Whilst the picking head frame 110 is driven in either direction with the air delivery tubes 111 in the horizontal position, the air delivery tubes will brush past any branches of the tree that they collide with, given the flexible nature of the tree branches.

Accordingly, a system for harvesting fruit trees is provided which has minimal impact on the tree itself, and provides for removal of substantially all of the fruit from the tree. No appreciable damage is caused to the trunk or roots of the tree, with the receptacle being placed about the tree trunk, with flexible flaps sealing between the tree and the receptacle segments. The delivery of air blasts to the fruit, rather than mechanical picking with rigid picking rods, reduces damage to the tree and the fruit. Whilst the fruit harvester described is particularly suitable for olives and macadamia nuts, it is envisaged that it will also be suitable for harvesting other tree-borne fruit, including various forms of nuts and citrus fruits.

An alternative system for use with manual harvesting is depicted in FIG. 7. This system provides a fruit collection receptacle 120′ suitable for use with manual harvesting when an automated air delivery system such as that described with reference to FIGS. 1 to 6 is not justified. The receptacle 120′ is configured in the same general manner as that of the harvester of FIGS. 1 to 6, and can be mated to a tractor or front end loader in the same way. The receptacle 120′ is provided with a walkway 160 around the periphery of the fruit collection receptacle 120′, enabling a person manually harvesting the tree to walk about the tree periphery, knocking fruit from the tree which will then fall into the fruit collection receptacle 120′ in much the same manner as that described above. A safety rail 161 may be provided if desired to prevent a person harvesting the tree from the walkway from falling inwardly into the tree when harvesting the same.

Referring to FIGS. 8 through 14, an alternate fruit harvester 300 has a harvester body structure including a picking head frame 310 formed of two picking head frame segments 313 relatively displaceable between open and closed configurations in a similar manner to the picking head frame 110 of the fruit harvester of FIGS. 1 to 6. The harvester body structure also includes a fruit collection receptacle 320 arranged beneath the picking head frame 310 and configured substantially identical to the receptacle 120 of the fruit harvester of FIGS. 1 to 6. The fruit collection receptacle 320 is formed of two receptacle segments 321 relatively displaceable between open and closed configurations with the picking head frame segments 313. Each of the receptacle segments 321 is pivotally mounted about a pivot point 324 provided on a support structure 330 which is in turn mounted on a tractor or front end loader 200 in a similar manner to the harvester of FIGS. 1 to 6. The pivot points 324 are mounted on the support structure 330 by way of rollers mounted in a channel beam, enabling relative displacement of the pivot points 324 on activation of a hydraulic ram (not depicted) causing lateral displacement of the receptacle segments 321 so as to open up the receptacle 320 into two halves. The receptacle segments 321 can thus be separated by both pivotal and lateral relative displacement. Laterally displacing the receptacle segments 321 to separate the same provides improved operator vision from the front end loader 200 as the fruit harvester 300 is manoeuvred about the tree 10 to be harvested.

To ensure that the fruit collection receptacle 320 remains in the closed configuration during harvesting, an electro magnet 325 is provided at the juncture between the receptacle segments 321 at the rim thereof.

The picking head frame 310 is mounted on a pair of opposing scissor lifts 314, with each picking head frame segment 213 being mounted on the upper end of a scissor lift 314. The lower end of each scissor lift 314 is in turn mounted on the rim of the respective receptacle segment 321. Vertical displacement of each picking head frame segment 313 is provided by means of an hydraulic actuator 315 which acts to extend and contract the scissor lift 314 through control of the operator. The picking head frame 310 can be vertically displaced from a location 0.5 metres above the rim of the receptacle 320 to 5.5 metres above the receptacle rim, allowing full access throughout the height of a typically mature olive tree.

In this harvester 300, the fruit removal devices are in the form of elongated flexible rods 311. The rods 311 are here formed of fibreglass, but may be formed of any other suitably flexible material such as perspex. Fibreglass is preferred over perspex, however, as it is less susceptible to elevated ambient temperatures which may be experienced. The fibreglass rods should have a length of at least 1000 mm, more preferably at least 1500 mm, to provide penetration deep into the foliage of the tree. Here each fibreglass rod is approximately 1800 mm long and has a diameter of 12.5 mm. The fibreglass rods are formed by a pultrusion process. The rods may also be tapered, for example from a diameter of 12.5 mm at the root to 9 mm at the tip. The picking head frame 310 has a radius of approximately 2.5 metres resulting in each of the rods 311 extending to adjacent the tree trunk 11, and enabling access to virtually all fruit within the tree 10.

Each picking head frame segment 313 is divided into five equal length straight sections 316. Ten flexible rods 311 are mounted on each frame section 316 by way of a sub frame 317. Each flexible rod 311 is pivotally mounted on the sub frame 311 about a rod pivot point 318. The rod pivot points 318 are here each separated by approximately 150 mm.

The flexible rods 311 mounted on any given sub frame 317 are vibrated by cyclic pivoting about their respectively pivot points 318 by way of a hydraulic motor 340 driving an eccentric mechanism 341. The eccentric mechanism in turn drives the rod linkages 342 connected to the flexible rods 311 by swivel joints 343. The eccentric mechanism 341, depicted in detail in FIGS. 12 to 14, consists of a drive shaft 344 rotating a disc 345 having an off-centre cam 346 driven along a slot 347 in a cam follower arm 348 pivotally mounted about a pivot axis 349. The rod linkages 342 are connected to the cam follower 348 between the slot 347 and pivot point 349. Rotation of the hydraulic motor drives the cam 346 in an orbit about the drive shaft 344 which in turn creates a pivoting motion in the cam follower arm 348, thereby displacing the tie rod linkages 342 from side to side and pivoting each of the flexible rods 311 cyclically in phase about their respective rod pivot points 318. Other forms of eccentric mechanism, converting rotational input from a motor to an oscillatory output, may be utilised as desired. As best depicted in FIG. 12, the tie rod linkages 342 are arranged such that the flexible rods 311 converge toward the centre of the picking head frame 310.

The magnitude of displacement of the flexible rods 311 can be adjusted by adjusting the point at which the tie rod linkages 342 are connected to the cam follower are 348. As depicted in FIG. 14, three apertures 350 are provided for this purpose.

As well as adjusting the magnitude of displacement of the flexible rods 311, the frequency of vibration can also be adjusted by adjusting the speed of the hydraulic motor 340. A frequency of approximately 100 to 200 cycles per minute is appropriate for the particular set up described. With this set up, the flexible rods 311 flex into a generally sinusoidal form as they vibrate, enabling the rods to weave around branches dislodging fruit without damage. Adjustments to the displacement magnitude and frequency can be made as desired to achieve the required result on a trial and error basis.

As well as pivoting about a vertical axis, the flexible rods 311 are also mounted to be pivoted about a horizontal axis between a generally horizontal orientation as depicted on the right of FIG. 10 and a generally vertical orientation as depicted on the left of FIG. 10. This pivoting motion is provided through the mounting of each sub frame 317 to the respective frame section 316. As best depicted in FIG. 12, each sub frame 317 is secured to the adjacent frame section 316 by way of hinge mounts 351 which enables the sub frame 317 to pivot about its longitudinal axis. An hydraulic ram (not depicted) is provided to pivotally drive the sub frame 317 to move the flexible rods 311 between the horizontal and vertical orientations.

In use, the tractor or front end loader 200 to which the fruit harvester 300 is mounted is driven up to a fruit tree 10 as required, and the fruit collection receptacle 320 and picking head frame 310 forming the harvester body structure extended about the tree in the manner described in relation to the fruit harvester 100 of FIGS. 1 to 6. The scissor lifts 314 would typically be in the lowered position prior to the commencement of harvesting of the tree, and the flexible rods 311 are pivoted to the horizontal orientation prior to commencement of harvesting, such that they will extend toward the tree trunk 11 immediately below the foliage of the tree. The hydraulic motors 340 are then activated to vibrate the flexible rods 311. The scissor lifts 314 are then controlled by the operator remotely from the front end loader 200, gradually raising the picking head frame 310 and thereby driving the flexible rods 311 upwardly through the foliage of the tree. The sinusoidal vibration of the flexible rods 311 allows the rods to readily weave their way through the branches of the tree and gently knock any olives from the tree to fall into the receptacle 320 therebelow for subsequent retrieval by a conveyor in the manner described in relation to the fruit harvester 100 of FIGS. 1 to 6. Once the picking head frame 310 has reached the top of the tree, the flexible rods 311 are driven back to the vertical orientation and the scissor lift 314 retracted. A further pass up through the tree can be conducted if required, however a single pass will typically be sufficient to remove substantially all fruit, if the vibration characteristics of the flexible rods 311 have been correctly set up. The receptacle segments 321 are then separated to enable the harvester 300 to be removed from the tree and driven to the next tree to be harvested.

A particularly preferred form of fruit harvester 400 is depicted in FIGS. 15 through 22. The fruit harvester 400 has a harvester-body structure including a fruit collection receptacle 420 formed of two receptacle segments 421 and a picking head frame 410 formed of two frame segments 413 mounted above the segments 421 of the fruit collection receptacle 420 by way of scissor lifts 414 in the same manner as the fruit harvester 300 of FIGS. 8 through 14. Fruit removal devices, in the form of elongated flexible rods 411, are mounted on the picking head frame segments 413 in the same manner as for the fruit harvester 300 of FIGS. 8 through 14.

Rather than being configured to be mounted to a tractor, the fruit harvester 400 includes a base assembly 460 on which the picking head frame 410 and fruit collection receptacle 420 are mounted. The base assembly 460 includes a platform 461 to which is mounted means for self-propelling the harvester 400 in the form of a combustion engine 462 driving wheels 463. The driving wheels 463 are mounted on the platform 461 by way of a self-levelling suspension system 464 so as to retain the platform in a horizontal orientation when the harvester is located on sloping or uneven terrain. An operator's cabin 465 is located on the platform to one side midway between the fore and aft wheels 463. From this cabin 465, the operator controls movement of the harvester and the various hydraulic actuators and motors powered by the combustion engine 462.

Referring particularly to FIGS. 16 and 17, the base assembly 460 includes a support structure 466 incorporating four arcuate tracks 467 which each extend between a lower track end 467a and an upper track end 467b. This support structure 466 includes a frame work of struts 468, 469 supporting the arcuate tracks 467. The track lower end 467a is secured to a telescoping arm 470 telescopingly received within a hollow beam 471 of the base assembly platform 461. A hydraulic actuator 472 mounted within the hollow beam 471 telescopingly displaces the telescoping arm 470 so as to displace the arcuate tracks 467 between a retracted position above the base assembly platform 461 (depicted in FIG. 15) and an extended position (depicted in FIG. 18) located forward of the base assembly platform 461. A roller assembly 473 mounted on the support structure 466 toward the rear of the lower strut 469 supports the rear of the support structure 466 on the hollow beam 471 and enables the support structure to slide between the extended and retracted positions of the arcuate tracks 467.

A carriage 474 is mounted on the arcuate tracks 467 by way of further roller assemblies 475, as best depicted in FIGS. 16 and 17. Two roller assemblies 475 are mounted on each of the arcuate tracks. The arcuate tracks 467 are each provided with a rack 476 of teeth which engage a teethed pinion wheel 477. The pinion wheels are connected by a drive shaft 478. One of the pinion wheels 477 is driven by a hydraulic motor 479 mounted on the carriage 474 via a worm drive 480 and chain 481. This rack arrangement enables the carriage 474 to be driven between the arcuate track upper end 467b (as depicted in FIG. 18) and the arcuate track lower end 467a (as depicted in FIG. 19).

The fruit collection receptacle 420 and picking head frame 410 are mounted on the carriage 474 by roller mechanisms 482 associated with each of the fruit collection receptacle segments 421 as depicted in FIG. 21 (with the floor of the fruit collection receptacle and the picking head having been omitted for clarity). Each of the fruit collection receptacle segments 421 (and hence each of the picking head frame segments 413) is mounted on an opposing end of the carriage 474 by four of the roller mechanisms 482. Hydraulic actuators 483 laterally drive the fruit collection receptacle segments 421 and picking head frame segments 413 between the open configuration depicted in FIG. 21 and the closed configuration depicted in FIG. 22.

In use, the harvester 400 is driven along a row of fruit trees 10 with the arcuate tracks 467 in the retracted position and the carriage 474 located adjacent the arcuate track upper end 467b such that the harvester body structure is in an elevated and angularly retracted position above the base assembly 460, as depicted in FIG. 15. The fruit collection receptacle segments 421 are in the open configuration at this stage providing the operator with a clear view between the fruit collection receptacle segments as will be apparent from FIG. 21.

The harvester 400 is stopped alongside a tree 10 to be harvested and the arcuate tracks 467 are extended by way of the telescoping arm 470 and associated hydraulic actuator 472 toward the tree as depicted in FIG. 18.

Next the carriage 474 is driven down the arcuate tracks 467 so as to position the picking head frame 410 in a generally horizontal orientation extending from the base assembly 460 and surrounding the tree 10 as depicted in FIG. 19.

The receptacle segments 421 and picking head frame segments 411 are then driven into the closed configuration by way of the hydraulic actuators 483 so as to close the picking head frame 410 and fruit collection receptacle 420 around the tree 10. The tree 10 is then harvested in the same manner as the harvester 300 of FIGS. 8 to 14 by pivoting the flexible rods 411 to the horizontal orientation, vibrating the flexible rods 411 and gradually lifting the picking head frame 410 through the tree by way of the scissor lifts 414.

After the tree has been harvested, the flexible rods 411 are again pivoted downwardly so as to rest within the fruit collection receptacle 420. The fruit collection receptacle segments 421 and picking head frame segments 413 are laterally displaced to the open configuration, the picking head frame 410 and fruit collection receptacle 420 retracted to the elevated position with the carriage 474 adjacent the track upper end 467b, and the arcuate tracks 467 retracted by way of the telescoping arm 470. The harvester 400 is then driven along to adjacent the next fruit tree in the row to be harvested.

Various modifications to the mechanisms and arrangements described above will be appreciated by the person skilled in the art.