GV (formerly Google Ventures) is spearheading a $10 million investment in Abundant Robotics. The company, which prides themselves on their ability to “deliver robotic systems for the hardest jobs in agriculture,” has developed an apple-picking robot that could eventually be modified to pick a variety of fruits and vegetables. Joining Google in the investment were six other companies including Tellus Partners, Yamaha Motor Ventures, and Comet Labs.
Abundant Robotics began working with the apple industry four years ago as they tried to figure out how to automate the difficult task of picking apples. To do so, they needed to develop a robot that can easily locate any fruit that is ready to pick within a tree canopy, and then also retrieve it without crushing the apple to bits. This has led the company to forgo the use of a gripping arm, and instead adopt a vacuum system that allows their robot to gently manipulate an apple within a tree.
The company continues to test and refine their robot, and they routinely deploy their creations to a variety of U.S. and Australian orchards where they work alongside farmers to understand what still needs improving. In its current form, the robot is, in essence, a self-driving car outfitted with a diesel engine and powertrain, that is able to pick apples as it moves along. The robots also have the ability to work 24 hours a day and can identify and pick apples even in the dark of night.
Abundant Robotics is one of several companies currently pursuing agricultural robots, which could ultimately be for our own good. According to the World Bank, by the year 2050 we’ll need to make about 50% more food than we are today if we’re to sustain our growing population. During the time-frame, climate change is also projected to reduce crop yields by 25% as well.
Though we’ve written before about how there’s a growing concern about robots taking human jobs, the US and much of the world currently faces labor shortages in the agriculture sector. If anything, these robots could be the key to solving our looming food crisis.
Images: Abundant Robotics, Good Fruit Grower