Set aside the hype of news releases. Commercial apple harvesting with robotics is not quite here, according to Good Fruit Grower.
On-the-ground reporting in Washington State reveals that two companies are still working hard on both hardware and software.
Israeli-based FFRobotics uses a computer-guided machine with three-fingered grippers to methodically twist the apples and deposit them on conveyors that lead to a stem-cutting table and then a bin.
California-based Abundant Robotics uses a vacuum tube to gently suck the fruit from the tree. Its technology governing perception and manipulation is improving rapidly. It was used in 2019 in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. However, in Washington State, the custom automatic hardware was breaking down too often in fall 2019 trials due to the rigours of non-stop harvest.
While the architecture of high-density apple systems makes robotic harvesting more doable, industry observers say that growers will need to adjust canopy and crop load management so that the robots can “see” the apples amongst the branches.
For a glimpse of both systems, go to “Robotics arms race” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PtqZA2enkQ
Source: Good Fruit Grower December 2, 2019