The shortage of agricultural labour to harvest fruit, felt most acutely in Europe, is about to be alleviated with Tevel’s FARTM (Flying Autonomous Robots) system set to start harvesting apricots in Italy from June this year. Simone Pollano, General Manager Europe for Tevel Aerobotics Technologies LTD, highlights that “automation is not a process of substitution of labour.”
Tevel's fully automated picking robot filling a crate with apples
“For 2022 we are focused and committed to executing our plan in Italy. We will start in June with pilots on apricots then move on to harvesting peaches and nectarines and eventually finalise our operations in the area of Emilia Romagna also with pears in September. Our commercial harvest of apples will be done with Rivoira Giovanni & Figli s.p.a. – an early adopter of our technology. Marco Rivoira is a fresh produce export leader who is helping TEVEL getting better, exactly where agriculture will need our harvesting data most – weight, size and quality of the fruit picked,” says Pollano.
Darwin wcdi (we can do it), the leading fruit harvesting platform creator, of Italy and Spain and Tevel Aerobotics Technologies LTD, a developer of fruit harvesting robots, of Israel, have recently joined forces to create the world's first fully commercial integrated autonomous fruit harvesting system.
Different fruit can be harvested
“For 2022 and 2023 we feel ready for apples, nectarines, plums, apricots and hopefully pears. Commercial picking can start as of next year and we are taking in pre-orders for Italy and Spain. Our priorities will be to start with orchards conceived on ‘fruit wall’ systems and with companies that are technologically on the forefront (sorting house, logistics, and packaging). Usually those who appreciate fruit quality and the selective data collecting information most. It helps them aligning their warehouse logistics in the back. At the same time, we are favouring orchards that are extensive and where labour costs are highest and immigration most difficult (Central and Western Europe as well as the UK). To put it in a nutshell these are our immediate priorities.
“Beyond that there is a strong request from farmers around the world to support them on avocados, citrus and kiwis. Our Israeli headquarters is working on the R&D aspects of it, along with other add-ons to be released in the coming years. The management team is busy getting the organisation and the distribution aligned to the global roll-out challenge,” says Pollano.
Buy or rent robotic harvesters
“The robots are commercially available as a service of picking on a multiyear plan, and from Q3 2023 will be commercially available for purchasing the machines still chaperoned by a competitive service pricing. In Berlin we presented our first partnership model whereby a harvesting platform producer “integrates” our FAR’s system of 4 or 8 drones. This integrated system will be used in the second half of 2022 as fruit picking service and will be available to be purchased for pre-orders to be taken as of next year. Depending on the customer we will settle the transaction details accordingly. We are also getting requests from companies that see the opportunity to become partners of TEVEL by offering fruit harvesting services to growers in certain geographical areas. This is a second operating model that we at TEVEL are following up with interest. It will suit farmers who can or do not want to buy the machine. The service provider will be able to accomplish the harvesting by getting paid for the direct labour cost portion of the picking task (in €/tonne considering that the system knows the single fruit weight while it is being picked). Revenues will be shared between the service provider and Tevel,” explains Pollano.
“Let me stress one last important point. As has been proven in every other industry, automation is not a process of the substitution of labour, but an enabler for mankind in accomplishing more tasks better, i.e., with higher quality and deeper insight. Economic history is there to confirm this, in agriculture at least since the invention of the plough,” states Pollano.
TEVEL is collaborating with European, American and global machinery vendors, and working with leading growers in those same areas. Our scalability is accelerating significantly. The company has started its next investment round, Series C, to continue the development of the technology and realise its full potential.