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Canadian mushroom-picking robot: Technology Brewing Corp's cutting-edge robotic design

A company in British Columbia is working on the cutting edge of technological design. Salmon Arm's Technology Brewing Corporation has just been awarded $50,000 from B.C.'s Agritech Innovation Challenge for its development of a vision-guided robot capable of accurately picking, trimming and placing mushrooms in store-ready boxes.

"I'm often (asked) aren't you worried about taking people's jobs? Everything that we've automatized people don't want to do," Technology Brewing founder Mike Boudreau said. Boudreau built his first robot in 1985 and launched Technology Brewing in 1999 transitioning the company into robotics in 2006. As someone on the frontline of the robotic world, Boudreau explains the industry, and it isn't quite what one would expect. The jobs the company's robots have been designed to do are far less glamorous than the robots themselves.

See, identify and pick
As mushrooms come in different shapes and sizes, and at some stages of their growth double in size in just 24 hours, Boudreau's company is developing a robot that can see the mushrooms, identify which ones to pick and which to leave. If it sounds complex and expensive it's because it is.

"By the time we've developed a complete system... we'll have spent several million dollars," Boudreau said. "These are jobs that people don't want to do, that's why there's a demand for the robots in the first place.”

Boudreau said the sheer expense involved with the technology means industries that can't find labour - like mushroom pickers - will look towards automation, and these are the robots that will be developed. "It's not just the companies saying we want to reduce labour costs its the companies saying 'Yes, I'd like to reduce labour costs because I can't hire people to reliably show-up and do the job.”

For the time being these may be the jobs that robots take away from society, but Boudreau believes that, in the future, every job will be affected by automation.


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