A robotics start-up is testing a new robot that can pick fruit with the same accuracy and gentleness as humans.
Abundant Robotics has been carrying out trials in Australia, where its prototype can identify and pick apples by vacuuming them off branches, before gently placing them into the same collection crates used by humans.
The company says it believes its robot can pick fruit at the same rate as “crews of tens of people” and hopes to have the prototype ready to be sold by 2018.
According to research in the US, the availability of seasonal agricultural workers in the country is in decline, a trend it has been suggested could be extended by President Donald Trump’s tough stance on immigration, cutting the number of migrant labourers that farmers currently turn to.
Abundant believes automation is the answer and the firm’s chief executive, Dan Steere, told the MIT Technology Review that technological advances are part of the history of the industry.
“Look at the history of agriculture going back to the 1800s,” he said.
“Machinery has changed how harvesting’s done, and huge benefits to society have come from that.”
More testing of its prototype is to take place in Washington later this year, and Abundant has secured more than seven million pounds to develop the project.