Apple pickers probably thought their jobs were forever safe from automation. Apples are resilient fruits, but they’re a little too delicate for the powerful grasp of a robot. Then there’s the fact that each apple will vary slightly from the next, and apples don’t grow in the same spots on every tree. Even though these variations are slight, such subtleties can make it difficult for robots to operate efficiently. It’s difficult to imagine a legion of apple picking robots combing an orchard, scampering from tree to tree, plucking shiny red apples from outstretched limbs. Soon, however, we might not have to imagine apple picking robots because they are well on their way.
The list of jobs that can be done by machines and automated systems continues to grow. While most of these jobs are the ones you’d expect to become automated – manufacturing jobs, cashiers, telemarketers, etc. – there are a few that might come as a surprise.
When most people think of robots, they immediately picture factories and industrial settings rather than apple orchards. But agricultural robotics is a growing industry, and Abundant Robotics is currently working on an agricultural robot that could automate apple picking.
Why automate apple picking?
Abundant Robotics hopes to make nutritious foods, like apples and other fruits, more accessible to consumers through automation. The press release states that increases in orchard production have not been met by increases in labor productivity. This is an area where automation can definitely help. Automation is important because it increases productivity while decreasing costs, and typically improves a process. Of course, designing a robot that can pick fruit more efficiently than humans without damaging the fruit is key.
How will they automate apple picking?
Three words. Vacuum apple picker. The prototype is a giant robotic rolling vacuum equipped with a camera. It’s designed to prowl orchard rows and suck apples right off the trees. It looks a little bit like something you might find in a Dr. Seuss story. Below is some footage of the apple picking robot prototype in action.
This is great news for folks who love apples, but a heavy blow to career apple pickers everywhere.