People love apples. While the technology company consistently performs better in the market than the fruit, apples (the fruit) were still an over $2 billion business in 2014. With that kind of money pouring in, a better way to harvest apples seems like low-hanging fruit for the technology sector. Yet apples lend themselves so well to human harvesting, with their sturdy, bright bodies and hand-shaped mass, than automating a more efficient robot is a sucky proposition.
Which is perhaps why Silicon Valley is investing in a vacuum robot.
“The robots, as yet unnamed, were designed to be strong and fast enough to remove one fruit per second from a tree, but gentle enough not to damage trees or the fruit, according to Abundant Robotics’ CEO and co-founder Dan Steere…
They employ computer vision to recognize apples on the branch that are ready for harvesting, and a kind of vacuum to remove the apples, Steere said. For power, the robots are plugged into the small tractors already used pervasively in fruit farming.”
A machine that can identify apples on branches, maneuver around the tree to get to the apples, and then suck them into a bucket could be an alternative to the ancient, basic alternative of paying people to pick them by hand. Provided the machine can deliver on expectations, and is cheaper to operate than humans are to pay, expect to see some roborchards in the future.