Robotic harvesters are being used to carry out a commercial apple harvest in New Zealand, fruit grower T&G Global said Tuesday.
The automated apple picking robots have been developed by Abundant Robotics, a California-based technology firm. T&G Global's parent company, BayWa AG, invested in Abundant Robotics in 2017. The robots are being used at orchards in the Hawkes Bay area on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island.
"Automation enables us to continue to scale to meet increasing global demand for food, in the face of current and future labor market challenges," Peter Landon-Lane, chief operating officer at T&G Global, said in a statement.
"We've been actively driving towards this for the past few years, including preparing our orchards to be robot-ready," Landon-Lane added.
According to T&G Global, this preparation has involved the implementation of "high density planting and specific pruning methods" to make the company's orchards suitable for the robotic pickers.
The automated pickers are being used to harvest a variety of apples, which will be sold in New Zealand and around the world.
"Developing an automated apple harvester requires solving a number of complex technical problems in parallel, from visually identifying harvestable fruit and physically manipulating it to pick without bruising, to safely navigating the orchard itself," Dan Steere, the CEO of Abundant Robotics, said.
Abundant Robotics is one of several businesses developing innovative fruit-picking technology.
Others, such as Agrobot, have developed robots that use real-time artificial intelligence to determine the ripeness of strawberries. The robots also use "short-range integrated color and infrared depth sensors" to analyze the fruit and record information.
Back in New Zealand, T&G Global's Peter Landon-Lane said that robotic technology would complement the work of humans because of "its ability to pick a large proportion of the fruit, much of it at the upper levels of the trees." This would in turn reduce physical demands for workers and boost productivity, he added.