Apple-Picking Robots Toughen Job Competition For Farmers

Orchards are turning to automation when seasonal labor is more difficult to find.

May 5, 2017 5:00 am

How do humans like them apples?

Orchard managers are starting to use to robotics for harvesting fruit. Machinery, which looks like it belongs on a farm as much as tractor, is being used to make a harvest more cost-effective by picking only the ripe, healthy crops.

Bots like the one made by Abundant—which just got $10 million in funding from Google’s venture capital firm—use a vacuum to suck apples off the stem since robotic hands are not advanced enough to handle delicate fruit without damaging it. Thanks to advances in A.I. and computer vision, Abundant’s bot can select the right fruit at the right time for the perfect ripeness, according to Technology Review.

With $4 billion worth of apples harvested each year, critics are worried this is just another example of the shrinking labor job market caused by automation. But, the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission argues robotic farmhands are a solution to the lack of seasonal laborers in the United States.

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