California-based startup Abundant Robotics recently unveiled the world's first commercial robotic apple picker. It uses a combination of autonomous driving, industrial automation and advanced vacuum technologies to help streamline apple harvesting. The machine takes the form of a driverless, tractor-style vehicle that navigates orchards using a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) platform similar to those utilized by warehouse robots and some autonomous vehicle systems.
Image recognition software allows the machine to identify apples by matching the correct ripeness level. Once identified, robotic arms reach out with vacuum cleaner-like openings to literally suck the apples off the trees. From there, conveyor belts place the picked apples into on-board storage bins.The machine's creators feel the machine combines the necessary technology needed for identifying the ripest apples and handling them delicately enough to avoid bruising and damage.
To see the unit in motion, click here.
The company's first customer is New Zealand-based T&G Global. Prior to partnering with Abundant Robotics, the company told Digital Trends that workers would do the equivalent of five vertical miles climbing up and down ladders to pick a hectare (107,000 square feet) of apples. Robotic harvesting solutions such as this one could offer a number of benefits, including quicker, more efficient harvesting.