A Florida-based technology company that’s been developing a strawberry-picking robot for years has finally started unveiling their product. Their upcoming demo for growers attending an annual industry convention in Orlando, next month, is potentially a big deal. Grain farmers have harvested their fields with autonomous, self-driving combines for the last 20 years. Produce, however, requires a lighter touch. Berries, in particular, are almost impossible to pick robotically.
The United States is the world’s biggest strawberry producer, growing 3 billion pounds of the fruit each year. In California, where most of those strawberries are grown, 400 farmers depend on 55,000 farm workers to work their fields, according to the California Strawberry Association, an industry group. (Florida is the country’s second-largest strawberry state.)
Imagine a robot that could replace those workers. The machine developed by Harvest CROO attempts to do just that. The prototype is a big, hulking thing, that inches over eight rows of strawberries at a time. As the beds pass beneath, 16 robotic arms attached to a single chassis spin and whirr to lift the leaves off the plant, take photos of the berry, and with a plastic clamp, pluck the red ones off the stem. Then, internally, the machine loads the fruit into plastic clamshell containers with a packing capacity of 1,000 pounds.