March 28, 2023
U.S. farmers continue to be challenged by the availability and price of hand labor to harvest perishable crops, including stone fruit. Growers now have access to robots who simply need a steady source of power to mechanically pick that fruit, eliminating the need for hand crews and ladders in the orchard.
Tevel, an Israel-based company, is working with select fruit growers in the western U.S. to test its platform of flying autonomous robots to pick peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, pears, and apples. The company demonstrated its technology during the World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.
The next generation of harvesting solutions uses tethered drones armed with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to pick fruit from the trees, eliminating the need for hand crews that are limited by availability and the number of hours they can work.
Ittai Marom, U.S. general manager for Tevel, said the technology does not pick fruit at the same rate as hand crews – yet, but it does have other immediate benefits.
“We’re currently slower than a human picker; it’s something we’re always working on,” Marom says.
Works around the clock
Immediate benefits of the technology include the ability to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Color picks and the ability to pick fruit based on size can easily be programed into the algorithm. Color and size can be immediately shared through the data platforms. Brix cannot be determined through the system at this time.
The company’s current business model is a combination of providing machines for sale to customers and offering them as a service-based business – meaning growers contract for harvesting services. Tevel is working with select growers in the western U.S. to prove the technology. The machines are commercially available to U.S. customers.
Tevel partnered with S&S Metal Fabrication in Kingsburg, Calif. to build the platforms that offer the tethered drones for field work. S&S already builds the Alpha-1 platform that allows humans to hand harvest of fruit from a moving platform, without the need for ladders in the orchard.
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