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Robot Apple Pickers Could Cost Migrant Laborers Their Jobs

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Credit:  Lisa Clarke/flickr.com, CC BY-ND 2.0

Credit: Lisa Clarke, flickr.com, CC BY-ND 2.0

by Lora Kolodny, Tech Crunch

Apples are the second most commonly consumed fruit in the US, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture, but the way apples are harvested in the orchard hasn’t changed much in the past two centuries. It’s still a manual process, by and large.

Now, SRI Ventures, a kind of startup incubator within the Menlo Park research and development firm SRI International, is investing in and spinning out a startup called Abundant Robotics Inc. to automate apple harvesting with agricultural robots currently in development.

The robots, as yet unnamed, were designed to be strong and fast enough to remove one fruit per second from a tree, but gentle enough not to damage trees or the fruit, according to Abundant Robotics’ CEO and co-founder Dan Steere.

They employ computer vision to recognize apples on the branch that are ready for harvesting, and a kind of vacuum to remove the apples, Steere said.

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