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Robots bring apple picking in the 21st century

Few things are American apple pie, and a new technique that uses machines and technology to make the apple harvest more efficient and less daunting on the man.

Techcrunch reports that Abundant Robotics, a Hayward, California.-based company started to work with the apple industry about four years ago. Although there are in abundance, if apples are picked, they run the risk of damage in the form of a hole skins or bruising, which may make the fruit useless on the market. Because of this, the harvesting of the apples by automation is not a simple task.

The machines compensate for the fruit of the specific requirements of the treatment using computer vision to identify the apples are ready to be picked while it is still on the branch. If an apple is ready, the machines make use of a vacuum-like device to pick up instead of using a gripper or hand-like grasper. The robots can be recharged by being plugged into tractors.

The machines are tested in orchards in the United States and Australia and are able to work around the clock, picking ripe apples, day and night.

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Co-founded by Steve Steere, Curt Salisbury, and Michael Erkisen, Abundant Robotics was organized about a year ago after the team found that the agricultural space presented a promising opportunity in the market. Prior to the establishment of the company, the team worked on harvesting automation research funded by SRI and non-dilutive grants from the Washington Tree Fruit commission, according to Techcrunch.

SRI Ventures is an arm of SRI International, a nonprofit research organization. Techcrunch describes SRI Ventures as a “startup incubator.” In 2016, SRI spun off several companies, including Superflex, “a full-body suit filled with soft muscle-like actuators, which detects your movements and give them a boost,” according to Techcrunch.

SRI Ventures President Manish Kothari told Techcrunch that without the recent developments in computer vision and image processing, automation of apple picking would not be possible. “You direct the robot to go somewhere, see, and grab an apple, and go again. It is a non-trivial technical challenge,” he said. “To detect apples very precisely, you should see down to the millimeter level in real-time. That requires that the software and the hardware side, chips you in real-time image processing on the fly.”

Techcrunch further reported that Apples are the second most consumed vegetables in the U.S. and farmers produce more than 9 billion pounds of apples in the country, according to the USDA. In particular, 2.3 billion pounds were carried out in 2014-2015 and international consumption grows.

Now will Abundantly Robotics plans to produce the automated robot apple pickers with machines that do the work in the orchards within two years. The company will also grow its eight-person team, currently based at SRI in Menlo Park, California.

Abundant Robotics and SRI Ventures have not responded to Fox News’ request for comment on the project.

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