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Tethered drones can now pick fresh market fruit

Tevel, an Israel-based company, is working with select fruit growers in the western U.S. to test its platform.

Todd Fitchette, Associate Editor

March 28, 2023

2 Min Read
Tevel fruit pickers
Tevel created autonomous flying robots to pick fruit. The robots are tethered to mobile platforms created by S&S Metal Fabrication in California and are commercially available in the United States.Todd Fitchette

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.

About the Author(s)

Todd Fitchette

Associate Editor, Western Farm Press

Todd Fitchette, associate editor with Western Farm Press, spent much of his journalism career covering agriculture in California and the western United States. Aside from reporting about issues related to farm production, environmental regulations and legislative matters, he has extensive experience covering the dairy industry, western water issues and politics. His journalistic experience includes local daily and weekly newspapers, where he was recognized early in his career as an award-winning news photographer.

Fitchette is US Army veteran and a graduate of California State University, Chico. 

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