The future of industrial automation lies in a fruit bowl. To be fair, it’s not really the fruit bowl that’s going to change industrial automation, it’s the robot with its hand in the fruit bowl. A British firm is building a robot capable of sorting different types of fruit. This will solve the age-old manufacturing problem of jumbled fruit bowls.
A bowl of randomly mixed fruit will be placed in front of the robot. Through machine vision and smart software, the robot will identify the different pieces of fruit, pick them up, and sort them by color or type, all without damaging any of the fruit.
You might not think that a fruit sorting robot would have much of an impact on industrial automation. Obviously, messy fruit bowls are not an issue plaguing the manufacturing industry, and being able to sort fruit doesn’t sound like that impressive of an accomplishment.
Being able to recognize different types of fruit, and being able to place that fruit in different groups is something that even toddlers are capable of doing, and we’re supposed to be impressed that a robot can do it? Michio Kaku has said that today’s robots have the intelligence of “a lobotomized mentally challenged cockroach“, but maybe we have we lowered our standards a little too much…
While sorting fruit is a fairly simple task for human beings, it’s not quite so simple for robots. Humans can visually identify the differences between objects, and group those objects based on similar characteristics with practically no thought. It doesn’t matter if the apples, oranges, and bananas are all different shapes, sizes, and shades, we can recognize them as being similar and group them accordingly.
Robots, however, have trouble with natural variations. If every single apple, orange, and banana were the exact same in every way, robots could sort them all day long, but slight differences have been a huge obstacle for robots. Being able to perform a task that isn’t rigidly defined is a huge step in robotics and industrial automation.
It could be a while before this fruit-sorting technology can truly be applied to manufacturing and industrial automation, but it’s certainly a big accomplishment.