Saturday, August 22, 2009

Kerela's Coconut Problem

Kerela, in southern India, is an interesting place. Coconuts are everywhere, everyone has names out of the bible (due to the influence of an early Christian church that came proselytizing around the 2nd century AD), and now, it's offering money to automate the coconut harvest.
Apparently, young Kerelans now aspire to white collar jobs in the city, and labor for coconut harvesting is so rare that coconuts are rotting on the tree. They need a new coconut picking machine, one that could operate from the ground, or better yet, remotely from a distant office. It will need to be able to reach up 30 meters (About 100 feet?), it must be inexpensive to build and operate, because Kerela is a tropical area where mechanical breakdowns are constant, and it must be very mobile, because coconut plantations are mind-bogglingly huge.
The prize is a million Rupees. It sounds like a lot, but after the exchange rate, it's about $22,000. However, the immediate cash prize isn't the most lucrative part. The most lucrative part is that every coconut plantation in Kerela will want to buy your machine, probably a whole bunch of them for each farm. That adds up to some serious Rupee.
For my own attempt at it, I'm glad that they don't want full automation of this, because that would make it a million times more complex. I'm thinking a cart that has a control panel on one end, a telescoping claw at the other, and a large basket in between. When an "extend" button is pressed on the control panel, the claw's arm expands upwards, with twenty sections of about five feet each, for the maximum height. The claw would be raised up to the coconut, then a "close" button would clench the coconut. One could then pull it down by mechanical force by lowering the arm. When the claw returns to earth-level, it can be opened, and the coconut put in the basket. Next coconut. When it's time to move on to the next tree, a small electric motor can be operated from the control panel to push little wheels in the direction one wishes to go.
Here's a crappy illustration of how I see it driving about...

And here's how I see it picking a coconut:

Tomorrow, we return to insurance discussions already in progress.

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