Could a robot pick your peaches? How AI could transform global fruit farming

Say artificial intelligence’ and most people still think of big-budget movies and self-driving cars. But AI has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing all of us to innovate at pace, it could be ready for its big break. One firm in particular could be about to revolutionise global fruit picking.

Hollywood’s imagined applications of artificial intelligence, from Ex Machina to Blade Runner, may attract the attention but in the real-world, a range of distinctly more positive, uses of artificial intelligence have been continually expanding over the last few years.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the global pandemic that has disrupted so much –

and tragically taken so many – has seen businesses and practices evolve quickly to new challenges, and in industries you might not expect.

As a result of the travel restrictions following the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a global shortage of seasonal fruit pickers –  many of whom move to an area for just a few weeks or months around the harvest time of a particular fruit or vegetable. Stepping into that void, Tevel Aerobotics Technologies has developed a ‘flying autonomous robot’ (FAR) using artificial intelligence which identifies and picks fruit.

Covid-19 is only one of many factors that can mean there are not enough hands to pick fruit at the correct time, often leading to wastage within the orchard, or the fruit being sold at a fraction of its value. It is estimated that a two-week delay to picking fruit can see the end product lose a full 80 per cent of its value.

So what do the robots do?  Working 24 hours a day, they use AI perception algorithms to locate the right trees, and use vision algorithms to detect the fruit among the foliage and classify its size and ripeness. Once it’s been chosen – the algorithms ensure only the right fruit is selected – the robot then works out the best way to approach the fruit, remain stable, and then its picking arm grasps the fruit.

Multiple FAR robots can work in the same area without getting in each other’s way, as they are controlled by a single autonomous digital brain in a ground-based unit. They can even take on tasks such as pruning, trimming, and thinning of orchard trees.

Tevel wants to market its first autonomous fruit picking robot-drone by 2021, and has secured investment from Japanese agricultural machinery manufacturer Kubota. There are public concerns – the prospect of unemployment for human fruit pickers chief amongst them. But Tevel has stressed that their robots are designed to complement human fruit pickers, as opposed to replacing them.

The pandemic has been the catalyst for innovation in a whole range of artificial intelligence projects, innovations that will far outlast the ravages of Covid-19. As an investor in companies which use artificial intelligence, and given my deep interest in the  application of new technologies to traditional industries, I am especially encouraged to hear of development such as Tevel’s robots. They’ve demonstrated one of many potential uses for AI and innovation in agriculture, helping to eliminate wastage and maximise profitability.

With the need for sustainable food sources ever increasing with a growing global population, that can only be a good thing for the wider world – ensuring affordable, nutritious food is within arm’s reach of everybody around the globe.

Nicole Junkermann

Nicole Junkermann is an international entrepreneur and investor, and the founder of NJF Holdings, an international investment company with interests in venture capital, private equity, and real estate. Through NJF’s venture capital arm, NJF Capital, Nicole oversees a portfolio of over 30 start-ups across three continents, including in healthcare, FinTech, and deep tech.

eCMR: If not now, then when?

Gerry Daalhuisen • 17th July 2024

There have been several unexpected pit stops on the road to eliminating paper-based processes in logistics. But, is paper finally set to be a thing of the past?

Tackling Tech Debt

Wes van den Berg • 16th July 2024

5 years ago if you were a CIO without a cloud strategy you’d likely be out of a job. But making decisions in haste might mean businesses ended up with technology they regret, that doesn’t deliver on the promised value.

Laying the foundations for global connectivity

Waldemar Sterz • 26th June 2024

With the globalisation of trade, the axis is shifting. The world has witnessed an unprecedented rise in new digital trade routes that are connecting continents and increasing trade volumes between nations. Waldemar Sterz, CEO of Telegraph42 explains the complexities involved in establishing a Global Internet and provides insight into some of the key initiatives Telegraph42...

IoT Security: Protecting Your Connected Devices from Cyber Attacks

Miro Khach • 19th June 2024

Did you know we’re heading towards having more than 25 billion IoT devices by 2030? This jump means we have to really focus on keeping our smart devices safe. We’re looking at everything from threats to our connected home gadgets to needing strong encryption methods. Ensuring we have secure ways to talk to these devices...

Future Proofing Shipping Against the Next Crisis

Captain Steve Bomgardner • 18th June 2024

Irrespective of whether the next crisis for ship owners is war, weather or another global health event, one fact is ineluctable: recruiting onboard crew is becoming difficult. With limited shore time and contracts that become ever longer, morale is a big issue on board. The job can be both mundane and high risk. Every day...