No More Apple Picking For You How Robots Are Changing the Fruit Picking Industry by 2030

It can be quite shocking to some to realize how much of the world’s industry is still handled by direct manual labour. Often times we may envision some sort of advanced process that can greatly speed up the tedious and often monotonous labour-intensive jobs in most industries, but these were stuck in the realm of science fiction for decades.

Until now that is. Robotics have permeated many different industries to do exactly what you might think in terms of labour automation. They can now manage to fulfill online orders, sort out inventory, build other machinery, and more. Now, they can even start harvesting fruit in a robotics shakeup that can not just make the agri-fruit industry better sustain itself, but benefit the farmworkers as well.

The Robotics Changing Fruit Picking

Fruit picking has long been a standard job in the agricultural space, with extended hours and consistent demand in place for low-cost labour that involves repeat processes for picking fruit. Despite the perceived simplicity of the task, humans are still very much at the forefront of who is capable of actually doing the work due to the complexity of different fruits grown in different environments. In fact, robotics engineer Joe Davidson shared that most, if not all, produce you find in your local grocery is likely picked by hand.

Yet despite this status quo, Davidson also notes that there will need to be a shake-up in the future due to the simple economics of population growth pushing the demand for food to a level in the local labour market simply can’t cover for. Yes, the camaraderie and attention to detail are hallmarks of the labour involved in fruit picking, but too often the occupation itself is dominated by body pains and long, tedious hours at the orchard.

That’s why the industry is ramping up its investments in the field of robotics. In most other factors, there have been waves of development in robotic arm tech, ranging from standard 5 and 6-axis robotics to the more advanced delta robotics arms which combine imaging with artificial intelligence to better identify products for management. It’s this latter technology that has since pushed the market to an expected $3 billion value by 2030 based on research by Astute Analytica.

5 Reasons Why Fruit-Picking Jobs are In Robots Hands

The Need for Labour

A key driving force of why robotics is posed to cover the job of fruit picking away from human hands lies directly with the human element of the task. Unfortunately, the labour wages for fruit picking remain low and are often sourced in countries with a low cost of living. But as the quality of life improves worldwide, there begins the issue of rising prices that can have a snowball effect on the cost that is passed along to the end consumer.

Moreover, the labour market for fruit picking has been shrinking. With a consistently rising demand for fruit production, it becomes paramount for agricultural companies to find alternative labour sources that can better bridge the gap between labour and needed supply.

Better Efficiency

Robotics aren’t just a necessity due to simple economics but are in a good position to replace the need for manual labour due to the apparent efficiencies that a fully automated system can give to companies.

If fruit-picking robotics can be developed enough to identify and quickly pick fruits, the companies that manage the orchards can eliminate a lot of inefficiencies and steps between harvesting that often slow down the fruit-picking chain. In fact, Israeli-based Tevel Robotics has been working on flying drones that can pick apples with ease through image guidance systems, removing the need for multiple workers to manage rows of apples as the robots can manage both the identification and manual picking of the fruit on their own.

Cheaper Long-term Costs

Another key factor that can help drive down fruit prices is the inevitable savings that companies can incur with their investment in robotics. Instead of having to pay guaranteed salaries based on fruit picking harvest that can vary per season, robotics only require the upfront investment to get it up and running.

Companies will quickly be able to find this cost-saving metric as one of the biggest draws for robotics, shifting their human staff towards those that can manage the robotics instead.

Safer and Cleaner Production

Another push for robotics is the apparent issue of safety and cleanliness while harvesting fruits. With the recent pandemic, it’s become apparent that labour can get greatly impacted by the health and well-being of the workforce in general. Robotics doesn’t have that same issue and can easily manage a clean and hygienic process without the worry of contamination of the produce.

Moreover, robotics can cut down on the gruelling aspects of the fruit-picking labour itself, transferring the effort to robotic hands instead of a person’s. This might make the work more enticing for people with physical limitations, such as the elderly or the disabled, in managing and operating the fruit-picking robots instead of picking the fruits themselves.

Easy Adaptability

Lastly, the entry of robotics and the improvements in technologies push innovative companies to begin developing modular and dynamic robots that can identify and pick fruit based on a pre-programmed subroutine. Instead of having to train actual people on how to do the job, which can last for months, robots can quickly be upgraded with a new routine to better adapt to new fruits, environments, or other constraints.

Key Takeaways

The market is already keenly aware of the growing move towards robotics that is likely to shake up the industry in the decade to follow.

  • Despite much of the fruit and agricultural market being run by labour-intensive work, there is a growing need to match the increasing demand with a shrinking workforce.
  • Fruit picking itself is a very taxing and unattractive field to work in, often marked by low wages and difficult working conditions.
  • Robotics, then, can move the onus of fruit-picking responsibility from the diminishing workforce through advanced imaging capabilities, artificial intelligence, and new armature robotics.
  • Robotics has a high likelihood of replacing labour due to that much-needed alternative for labour, a better efficiency throughput, cheaper long-term costs, safer and cleaner production, and easy adaptability towards new situations.

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Published on 

Dec 13, 2022



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