Harvest CROO Robotics has taken another step toward the automation of strawberry harvesting with the debut of its autonomous vehicle.

Field testing of the vehicle began the week of June 5, focusing on its GPS navigation system, and is expected to be done by the end of July.

“Having the machine navigate the fields autonomously is the culmination of years of work and prototyping,” Bob Pitzer, co-founder and chief technology officer of Harvest CROO, said in a news release. “It is very gratifying to see our team effort come to fruition.”

The machine will be punching holes for planting this fall and will be harvesting strawberries this winter, co-founder Gary Wishnatzki said. Looking ahead, the plan is to have several machines in fields the winter of 2018-19 and to fully start commercialization the following winter.

When complete, the Harvest CROO vehicle will carry 16 picking robots and span six plant beds, picking the middle four. Ripe berries will be identified by a proprietary vision system, picked, and then moved on conveyors to the platform level of the machine for automatic inspection and grading.

The packing component of the machine is currently being developed and is expected to be completed in 2018, Wishnatzki said.

Harvest Croo will likely close its current investment round at the end of July. It aims to raise about $1 million between now and that time, Wishnatzki said.

The company plans to open up a new investment round early next year and also hopes to receive the balance of its National Science Foundation grant, which is $750,0000.

Wishnatzki compared the current state of this project to where cell phones were in the 1980s.

Right now, industry companies just want to pick a berry, just like early adopters of cell phones just wanted to make a phone call, Wishnatzki said.

Now, of course, phones have innumerable applications. The next frontier for Harvest CROO will be utilizing the tremendous amounts of data it will be collecting.

“It’s kind of mind-boggling all the things we’re going to be able to do,” Wishnatzki said. “Things we haven’t even thought of yet.”