Abundant Robotics creates automated fruit pickers

Posted on 17 Aug 2016 by Michael Cruickshank

A new robotic technology startup called Abundant Robotics has been incorporated, working on systems to help automate fruit picking.

Picking apples is very labor intensive. Image courtesy of Flickr/izzyplante
Picking apples is very labor intensive – image courtesy of Flickr/izzyplante.

The company is a spin-off from Silicon Valley research firm SRI International which itself is closely linked with Stanford University.

Abundant Robotics is the seventh company to be spun out of SRI International this year, and aims to commercialize prior research into agricultural robotics.

Specifically, Abundant Robotics will focus on automating fruit picking, a task which is incredibly labor intensive, even in relatively modern farms.

“While orchard yields have significantly improved over the last two decades, labor productivity has not […] our goal is to deliver robotic systems to ease the hardest jobs in agriculture,” said Dan Steere, CEO of Abundant Robotics.

The first kind of fruit which the company will focus on is apples, currently the most-consumed fruit in the US.

“The first automated apple harvesting system that doesn’t bruise or damage the produce will be a huge breakthrough in an industry that has been dependent on the challenges of seasonal labor,” said Steere.

However fruit picking is no easy task, as the produce is both fragile, and also often hard to discern from the rest of the plant.

For this reason Abundant Robotics has had to make considerable advances in the field of machine vision, to enable a robot to reliably detect what is, and what isn’t an apple.

In order to deal with the fragility of the produce, Abundant Robotics makes use of a vacuum powered nozzle to suck each fruit individually off the tree.

While Abundant Robotics hasn’t publically shown off its technology, video footage from a presentation earlier this year, shows the robotic vacuum device as a large system which is towed by a tractor.

This prototype robot had already reportedly undergone field trials both in the US and also in Australia.

In addition, the company plans to have its first robot on the market in 2 years time, however it will first need to grow its small 8 person team.

Demonstrating the significant investor interest in their technology Abundant Robotics says that it has already completed its initial investment round.