22 May 2017 | Online since 2003

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4 May 2017 10:22:58 |Crops and Cereals,Machinery and Equipment,News

Apple-picking robot to solve shortage of farm labour

The apple sucker at work (Photo: MIT Technology Review)

The apple sucker at work (Photo: MIT Technology Review)

A new machine that vacuums ripe fruit off the tree will prove to be god-send as apple orchard owners say they need robotics because seasonal farm labour is getting harder to come by.
California-based startup Abundant Robotics aims to solve the shortage of farm labour with its prototype apple-picking robot, and has announced a securement of $10 million (£7.7m) in a funding round led by Google Ventures.
Dan Steere, cofounder and CEO of Abundant, says recent tests in Australia, where apple season is under way, proved that the company’s prototype can spot apples roughly as accurately as a human and pull them down just as gently.
Steere claims that the robot can even work at night. To pick the fruit without damaging it, the robot uses a large vacuum hose that sucks the apples off of the tree and deposits them in a container.
Although the robot is still just a prototype, Steere says its performance has been promising.
“The results convinced us that we’re on the right path to scale up to a full commercial system,” Steere told MIT Technology Review.
“Our commercial system will pick at rates that match crews of tens of people.”
Steere said advancements in growing techniques have also made automation easier, as growers are cultivating dwarf trees that are low to the ground and have more easily accessible apples.
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