US 20020017429 A1
A fruit harvesting device having a frame supported on wheels, one of which is a drive wheel. An elevatable and tiltable carriage supports a worker. An arm on the front of the frame is engageable with the tree so that device may be driven circumferentially about the tree as an area is picked to advance to an unpicked area of the tree.
1. A harvesting device to assist a worker in removing fruit from a tree having a trunk, said device comprising:
(a) a frame having a front and rear supported on wheels, including at least one drive wheel;
(b) an arm on the front of said frame engageable with the trunk of the tree;
(c) a carriage on said frame having a platform for a worker which may be raised and lowered relative to said frame whereby said arm may be engaged with a tree trunk and said drive wheel selectively operated to rotate said device circumferentially about said tree to provide a worker on said platform access to the fruit.
2. The harvesting device of
3. The harvesting device of
4. The harvesting device of
5. The harvesting device of clam 1 wherein said carriage is hydraulically actuable.
6. The harvesting device of
7. The harvesting device of
 This application is based on provisional application No. 60/196,557, filed Apr. 11, 2000 entitled “Fruit Harvesting Device.”
 The present invention relates to a fruit picking device and more particularly to a fruit picking device which is engageable with the trunk of a fruit tree and which may then be driven circumferentially around the tree to provide the worker convenient access to the entire tree and the fruit to be picked.
 There are numerous devices in the prior art to assist in picking or harvesting fruit. Many of the prior art fruit harvesting devices are simply manual devices which assist in severing the fruit and in some cases have an associated basket or bag which catches the fruit.
 Other devices are attachable to the tree and are operable to shake the tree to cause the ripe fruit to be released and dropped to the ground or dropped into a collection device. These devices have the disadvantage in that they can cause severe damage to the tree and shorten the productive life of the fruit tree.
 Other types of harvesting devices to assist worker include scaffolds which are elevatable by mechanical or hydraulic systems to raise and lower the worker on a platform. While these type of devices do provide advantages in that they provide access to fruit at higher elevations, such devices require frequent repositioning so that the entire circumference or periphery of the tree can be reached.
 Accordingly, there exists a need for an effective fruit harvesting or fruit picking device which provides accessibility to the fruit at all locations on the fruit tree and which device may be easily operated by a single worker. Further, there exists a need for a device which will make harvesting the fruit more efficient, faster and will not cause any damage to the fruit tree.
 Briefly, in accordance with the present invention, a fruit harvester is provided which has a horizontal frame which includes three sub-frames. The lower frame carries a pair of spaced-apart wheels, at least one of which is driven by an electric or hydraulic motor. At least one of the rear wheels is steerable either manually or by means of a hydraulic steering linkage. The intermediate frame is fixed and carries a pair of front wheels which are on swivels located on opposite sides of the frame. A pair of arms are carried on the front of the intermediate frame to engage the tree.
 The upper sub-frame is slidable relative to the intermediate frame and at its rear end carries a pair of vertical uprights which support a carriage which may be selectively moved up and down along tracks on the uprights. The carriage includes a platform on which a worker may stand along with safety bars and supports for fruit receiving baskets. The controls that operate the harvesting device are also located on the platform.
 In use, the device is positioned adjacent to the tree with the arms engaging or abutting the tree. The rear-drive wheel may be positioned either manually or by means of a cylinder in a position so that upon actuation of the drive wheel, the harvesting device will be caused to move in a circular path about the tree with the carriage located just outward of the tree foliage. The uprights can be tilted and the carriage raised as necessary so as to access the fruit within the area that can be reached by the worker on the platform. When the fruit in an area has been picked, the device is rotatively advanced to a new position so the worker can access the fruit in that section of the tree. The device can towed from one field location to another by means of a hitch at either the front or rear of the machine. In the towed position, the front wheels are elevated above the ground.
 Turning now to the drawings of the fruit harvesting machine is generally designated by the numeral 10. The machine 10 has a main frame 12 which consists of an upper sub-frame 14, intermediate sub-frame 16, and a lower sub-frame 18. Intermediate sub-frame 16 is fixed and has a pair of longitudinally extending channel members 19 and 20. A pair of arms 22 and 24 are mounted at the forward end of the frame members 19 and 20. The arms may be fixed or may be moved between an open position as shown in FIG. 1 and a closed position as shown in FIG. 5 by pivot links 28 which are connected to pivot the arms which may be either hydraulically or mechanically actuated. A semi-circular fixed arm member 32 extends between the arms 22 and 24. The interior surfaces of the gripping arms 22, 24 and 32 are preferably covered with a protective, resilient coating to prevent damage to the trees.
 A transverse front wheel support member 36 is secured as by welding to the frame members 18 and 20, as best seen in FIG. 5. A swivel 38 is secured at the opposite outer ends of the wheel support. The swivels support wheels 40 and 42. The swivels 38 allows the front wheels to track or follow as the machine is rotatively driven around the fruit tree as will be more fully explained hereafter.
 The lower sub-frame 18 also comprises a pair of spaced-apart members 44 and 46. The members 44 and 46 are shown as being longitudinally slidable with respect to the intermediate fixed sub-frame 16, to move the rear wheels rearwardly for stability although in some instances the lower the sub-frame 44 may be fixed as the particular application may not require this feature. Relative movement between sub-frames 16 and 18 is facilitated by means of rollers associated with one of the members receivable within or on a track 48 in the other of the members. The sub-frames 14 and 18 may be moved by means of a hydraulic cylinder or, as shown in FIG. 5, a pair lead screws 50 and 52 operated by a motor 54 whose output is connected to a chain 56 engaging sprockets 55 on the lead screws so that they are simultaneously driven.
 As seen in FIGS. 4 and 5, the rear end of the lower sub-frame 18 supports a transverse wheel support 56 which extends outwardly from the frame a greater distance than the front wheel support member 36. The rear wheel support 56 is shown as a channel supporting a swivel 62 at one end. Swivel 62 carries a wheel assembly 64 which may be locked in place by arm 66 or which in the unlocked position is freely allowed to swivel.
 The opposite end of wheel support 56 carries drive wheel 70, as seen in FIG. 4. Drive wheel 70 is also positioned on L-shaped support 72 which may be locked by means of arm 76 and which may be allowed to freely swivel. Wheel support 72 has a vertically extending pivot pin 75 to which is attached manual steering arm 78. The manual steering arm may be rotated to change the position of the wheel assembly. A locking arm 76 may be tightened or loosened to either lock the drive wheel in a fixed position, or allowed to be rotated. Alternatively, the wheel support 72 may be connected to hydraulic cylinder 79 which can be extended or retracted to pivot the wheel relative to the transverse wheel support.
 The drive wheel 70 is carried on an axle 80, which axle carries a sprocket 82. A wheel motor 84, which may be electric or hydraulic, has an output shaft which carries a sprocket 88. The sprockets 82, 88 are either connected by a drive belt or chain 85 so that the wheel 70 is driven by the motor 84 at a predetermined speed.
 The upper sub-frame 14 is axially slidable with respect to the intermediate sub-frame assembly 16 by means of rollers which are receivable in tracks 48 on the upper surface of frame 16 as seen in FIG. 5. The upper sub-frame may be moved either in a forward or rearward direction by any suitable mechanical means such as hydraulic cylinder or a lead screw 52 as seen in FIG. 5. The positioning of the upper sub-frame assembly will horizontally position the vertical rails 110 and 112 at the rear of the frame in accordance with the diameter of the tree foliage. The lower end of the vertical rails 110 and 112 are pivotally connected to uprights 114 and 116. The lower end of the vertical rails 110 and 112 are connected to arms 115 as seen in FIGS. 2 and 6. Arms 115 are interconnected by a transverse frame member 118 which may be moved forwardly or rearwardly by means of a hydraulic cylinder 120 so the rails may be tilted forwardly from a generally vertical position.
 A carriage assembly 125 is movable along the rails 110 and 112 from a lowered position resting on the frame to a fully elevated position which may be, for example, eight or ten feet or more above the ground. The carriage is moved by any convenient drive system such as a cable and pulley or a hydraulic linear actuator 170 as shown. The carriage has a horizontal platform 126 which is connected to a pair of vertical rails 130 and 132. The vertical rails 130 and 132 are received or captured within guide members 134 secured to the forward side of the vertical members 110 and 112. One or more rollers 140 are provided at the inner end of the platform to provide for a smooth movement of the platform 126 along the vertical rails. The platform 126 includes posts 150 and a plurality of safety bars 152 to partially enclose the worker. Baskets 160 and 162 are received within receptacles 165 on either side of the platform. The baskets are preferably a durable plastic and can be removed from the receptacle 165 and replaced when filled.
 The invention will be better understood from the following description of operation. The harvesting machine is positioned adjacent a tree T to be harvested as shown in FIG. 1 with the arms engaging 22, 24 the lower trunk portion of the tree. The machine may be manually moved to this position or may be driven to this position under the power of the drive wheel 70. The drive wheel 70 is manually or hydraulically steered so as to properly position the harvester. The operator can control the operation of various mechanical components from a control panel CP located on the worker platform. If the arms are closeable, the operator will close the arms 22 and 24 so that they extend around the trunk of the tree. As pointed out above, the gripping arms are preferably coated with a resilient material to protect the tree trunk. The upper sub-frame 14 is then advanced to a position to allow the worker to access the lowest fruit on the tree. This can be accomplished by moving the sub-frame forward by means of the lead screw which positions the platform in a position close to the foliage on the tree. The worker can then remove the fruit and as the fruit is removed in the lower section of the area being picked, the worker can, by operating the controls elevate the platform 125 so that fruit at a higher elevation can be accessed. In order to reach the highest fruit in the section being picked, it may be necessary to tilt the rails 110 and 112 forwardly as seen in FIG. 2. When the fruit has been picked in the area indicated as Area A, the drive wheel 70 can be steered and actuated to rotate the harvesting device about the tree moving it to position B. The picking operation can then be continued in area B, as described above, until the fruit in this area has been removed. The operator may then further drive the harvesting device to positions C and subsequently D until the harvesting device has been rotated around the entire circumference of the tree and all of the fruit has been harvested. As the baskets 160, 162 become full with fruit, they can be removed and replaced with empty baskets. When the operation is completed, the operator will then lower the platform and, if necessary, open the forward gripping arms so that the device is released from the tree. The steering wheel can then be actuated to move the device away from the tree and the steering wheel 70 steered to position the harvesting machine at the next tree to be picked.
 When the picking operation is completed, the harvesting machine may be connected to a tractor or truck or other towing vehicle and moved to a machine storage shed or an adjacent field. In the towing position, the front wheels are preferably removed and a tow bar positioned relative to the device so as to cause the front of the frame to be slightly elevated during towing thereby lifting the front wheels off the ground.
 From the foregoing, it will be seen that the harvesting machine of the present invention can be operated by a single worker, allows the worker to efficiently remove fruit from the tree providing convenient access to the entire tree. The gripping arms that secure about the trunk provide a pivot location about which the machine can be rotated during the picking operation. The mounting of the worker platform on the vertical rails allow the worker to reach the higher foliage of the tree which reach is further facilitated by the frame assembly which allows the platform to be moved forwardly and rearwardly and also the vertical rails which allow the platform to be forwardly tilted.
 It will be obvious to those skilled in the art to make various changes, alterations and modifications to the harvesting machine described herein. To the extent these various changes, alterations and modifications do not depart from the spirit and scope of the above description, they are intended to be encompassed therein.
 The above and other objects of the present invention will be more fully understood from the following description and drawings in which:
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of fruit harvesting device of the present invention shown engaging a fruit tree in a picking position;
FIG. 2 is a side view of the fruit harvesting machine showing the vertical uprights and carriage in a forwardly tilted position;
FIG. 3 is a top view which illustrates the various positions of the fruit harvesting machine as the machine moves in a circumferential path about a tree in the harvesting procedure;
FIG. 4 is a detailed view of the drive wheel; and
FIG. 5 is front perspective view of the fruit harvesting machine of the present invention.