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VT team creates farming technology for perfect watermelon harvesting

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WSET) -- A group of Virginia Tech students are taking home $30,000 and first prize in the Ag-Bot Challenge for a competition on high-tech watermelon harvesting.

On a hot summer day, there's nothing better than a cold, juicy watermelon. But how many times have you bought one, only to bring it home, take a bite and find out it's tasteless.

Now, the team at Virginia Tech have found a way to keep that from happening.

Taking traditional farming equipment and giving it a high-tech twist, Virginia Tech's Ag-Bot team is revolutionizing watermelon farming.

"The idea is that farmers could set this up before going to bed and wake up in the morning and all the ripe watermelons would be picked up," Alexander Leonessa, a Mechanical Engineering professor, said. "They don't have to be there. They don't have to supervise it. It's completely autonomous. That's the dream we have here."

They do this while using a tried and true method.

"The harvester taps on the watermelon and listens to the sounds, just like you would at the grocery when you put it by your ear and tap on it," Leonessa said.

"If it's hollow it will harvest it. If it's not, it will leave it on the ground," Senior Mechanical Engineering student, Howard Guo, said.

The autonomous Ag-Bot sees the watermelon, taps it, and if it's read harvests it.

The process saves farmers time, but more importantly money.

"Labor and machine renting cost like 25 percent of the operational costs, but with our system we can, a farmer will order it and deploy it to the field, harvest watermelon, bring it back- it will not require even the driver," Guo said.

This savings means cheaper watermelon for you, the consumer.

Also, a melon harvested at the right time is its sweetest and juiciest.

"It's not fun when you get home and you open it up and it's not good," Leonessa said.

If all this watermelon technology sounds too good to be true, that's because it is for now. Currently, this is just a prototype to see if it could be done.

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