Robot fruit pickers to put migrant agricultural laborers out of work

Sunday, May 14, 2017
By Paul Martin

by: Earl Garcia
NaturalNews.com
Saturday, May 13, 2017

Some of the biggest fruit orchards in the U.S. may soon use robots in harvesting fruits, as two robotics firms are currently developing machines that could accelerate fruit picking. Mechanical harvesting has become a staple practice in many farms for crops such as wheat, corn, green beans, tomatoes and others. However, the harvesting of fragile, easily-perishable crops — such as apples, berries, table grapes and lettuce — are still done through manual labor. Fruit orchards in Washington state alone require thousands of farm workers to do the harvesting.

Israel-based FFRobotics noted that human pickers are getting scarce, with many young people shying away from farm work. The firm also stressed that elderly pickers are slowly retiring. In line with this, the company is currently working on a machine with three-fingered grips designed to grab fruit and twist or clip it from a branch. According to company co-founder Gad Kober, the machine will feature between four and 12 robotic arms, and can harvest as many as 10,000 apples an hour. The machine would also be able to harvest 85 to 90 percent of the crop off trees. The remaining crops could then be manually harvested by workers, Kober noted. On the other hand, California-based Abundant Robotics is developing a machine that makes use of suction technology to vacuum apples off trees. Plans for machine production were discussed in February at an international convention of fruit growers. The company aims to launch the robotic harvesters in the market before 2019.

The two robotics companies are likely to achieve their production targets, with both prototypes projected to be released this fall, according to Karen Lewis. Lewis is a Washington State University cooperative extension agent who assessed the use of robotics in fruit orchards. Lewis also noted that while the machines will serve as game changers in harvesting, fruit orchards across the country may be required to cultivate fruits in new trellis systems to allow the machines to see and harvest the crops.

Experts raise flags on potential losses in migrant laborers

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