Ripe Robotics was founded in 2019 with only 100,000 USD as start-up capital to create a robotic fruit picker. The major developments started in 2021, with a new robot called Eve, and the serious testing began.
“We have to make sure that things that we do in the shed actually work out in the field,” said Hunter Jay, CEO at Ripe Robotics. “Field conditions are very different to being in the shed, we have weather to deal with, leaves, uneven ground etc.”
Eve has come a long way and now the robot is picking its first commercial bins, and charging around the same as a human picker.
“We are charging per bin, Eve is not really fast at the moment, but she is designed to exceed the speed of a human, and can also work 24/7, as we improve it will get faster.”
As the robot ‘learns’ and advances are made, it will get more reliable and faster. At the moment mostly apples are being harvested, but Eve can also pick stone fruit. For apples she can already tell which are ripe or not, distinguish damage and different sizes. This can be applied over different varieties. At the same time as picking, the robot can gather data on a whole range of things and will soon be able to track fruit throughout the whole season. In the future everything from tree thinning, pruning, and spraying will be done by the robot.
The picking is done using a soft suction cup which will not damage the fruit, the whole process from tree to bin is designed to be gentle on the fruit.
“We are making good advances on speed, we have already increased the speed by 30% in the last two months. The goal is to be three times faster by this time next year," said Hunter.
“We don’t sell or lease the machines, we will instead continue to charge per bin, just like human pickers. We are very proud of how cheaply we done have everything to date, we have only spent USD 850,000 total, including wages.
“We are now looking at a raising more funding in order to advance further. In the past we have had investment from venture capitalists government grants. Our main trials are in Australia but we are also talking to people in the US, EU and UK and will expand globally."