Who Needs Humans?

Picking tree fruit is a tricky business. Timing is vital, as apples, pears, etc. must be picked before they’re ripe. If not, they won’t survive cross-country shipping and great quantities of fruit are wasted

Making matters worse, orchard owners have a hard time finding pickers. In addition to standing on 15-foot ladders while balancing 35-pound bags of fruit, harvesters must know which fruit are ready to be picked. With illegal immigration crackdowns and fewer workers willing to take seasonal work (often opting for year-round construction jobs instead), growers are turning to metal hands as they look to the future. That’s right–robo pickers.

apple-scout.jpgMarketplace” ran a piece last week describing how West Coast growers are investing in robotic harvesters. California’s Vision Robotics is developing a system that employs a scout robot that tells the harvesting unit which fruit are ripe for the picking.

Since virtually all American produce is hand-picked due to its fragility and varying ripeness, robotic harvesters could reduce the amount of fruit wasted. Let’s just hope it doesn’t lead to this.

While robotic harvesters are at least four years away, there’s a more low-tech option for avoiding tree fruit waste. Allowing volunteer pickers to harvest fruit for the hungry won’t yield profits, but it will give growers great peace of mind.

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