Will Agricultural Robots Soon Take Over The Farming Industry?
A Berry Farmer Gets Left High and Dry At Harvest Time, Turns to Agricultural Robots For Automation
That dreaded day when machines finally take over and force us all out of jobs, well, it turns out it’s not that far off. At least, that seems to be the case for one strawberry farm in Florida, according to a story on Foxbusiness.com.
Rotting Fruits and The Robots That Could Save Them
Gary Wishnatzki, a Florida strawberry farmer, had a million dollars worth of ripe strawberries ready to be picked when his workforce up and bailed on him in the middle of the night. As a result, the strawberries withered and rotted away before they could be cultivated and shipped to retailers.
Unfortunately, this story is pretty common, and there are a few reasons. Many farm workers come to the U.S. as temporary workers on H2A visas. And, according to the U.S. farming industry and Labor Department statistics, about half of all U.S. farmworkers are working in the country illegally. Because birth rates in Mexico are declining, and because farming is a viable and proliferate business in Mexico as well, keeping staff in the States can be challenging (Wishnatzki was allegedly paying the going rate of $25 an hour for experienced pickers). As it stands, the Mexican economy has developed to the point that coming to the U.S. for work might not be as incentivizing as it once was.
As a result, farms can face worker shortages without any real notice, leaving a fortune in uncultivated crops to die on the vine.
Bring In The Agricultural Robots
Wishnatzki was not ready to give up on the family business, however. Instead, he’s turned to automation in an effort to change with the times. In 2013, he co-founded Harvest CROO Robotics, a company that specializes in automated picking via agricultural robots.
But, can a picking robot work with the sort of dexterity and discernment that a human can? After all, picking berries without damaging them requires a soft touch, and it takes a critical eye to know when a berry is ripe enough to pick and sell. Picking is a delicate task that might be difficult to imagine a pile of metal and circuitry accomplishing.
But, Harvest CROO, who has already received six patents for their work in robotics, believes that their latest prototype will be up for the task. The Berry 6, which looks more like a mobile shed than it does something from the Jetsons, uses a combination of cameras, spinning pincer arms, and StereoVision Imaging to pick the tender fruit. By taking hundreds of pictures of each plant, the internal computers can discern which berries have reached the proper size and color for picking.
Harvest CROO plans to debut the Berry 6 at Wishnatzki’s Wish Farms by December of 2019. One of these agricultural robots is expected to handle the work of 30 men. Wish Farms hopes, with the robot at work, that their crop yield won’t be subjected to the instability of the current agricultural workforce any longer.
What About The Worker?
So, those 30 men that the Berry 6 replaces, what happens to them? Ostensibly, the ones who are still around will still have employment opportunities. As mentioned earlier, many of the seasonal farmhands here on work visas have found greener pastures back home. It seems that, even prior to these agricultural robots, there was too much work to do with too few workers to do it. Automation has been an inevitability.
The upside to automation is that, while it does take away the labor-intensive and repetitive tasks from a human, it leaves some openings for trained robot operators. Operators, through their training, will have the opportunity to increase their wages as well.
This is likely to be true in fields outside of farming as well. We’ve already seen the drive to automate in the automotive and warehouse industries. In fact, the World Economic Forum projects that half of all workplace tasks will be handled by machines by 2025. With a shortage of non-robots to do the menial, backbreaking, and repetitive tasks that need doing, a lot of fields will look to fill those positions with machines that can do more for less.
To learn more about the agricultural robots being developed at Harvest CROO, click here.