With a varying series of whirs and clicks, there's more than just the familiar hum of electronics that technology can bring to the industry. As some companies in our professional and literal fields have found, with technological innovations comes the potential answer to an increasingly complex set of problems specific to fresh produce.
For the creators of the Agrobot®, this set of automated technology-based solutions has found its material form in providing value to strawberry harvesters–who require both exact and decisive work in the field, and the utmost care in picking their prime product.
Based in Huelva, Spain, Agrobot assures that not only can its strawberry harvester boost the productivity of an operation’s output, but the many hands of the machine can multiply a company’s labor–filling field areas with speed and agility that were previously sparse of human hands.
As a respectable berry powerhouse in our industry, Driscoll’s knows the potential benefits of adding Agrobot to its team firsthand. Though the company is still a few years from bringing its partnership with the tech industry to a commercial level, Driscoll’s is pursuing its trial basis with Agrobot in full-force in order to provide the industry with a conceivable solution to restraining obstacles. And as Soren Bjorn, President of Driscoll’s of the Americas, tells me, the company’s own successes are ones that could serve the agricultural community not only on our domestic soil, but on a global scale as well.
“Our biggest challenge in the berry industry is labor availability. Agrobot serves as a viable option to complementing existing labor forces, giving people other tasks that they don’t currently have in the field while allowing this technology to perform the brunt of harvesting labor,” Soren tells me. “Right now, we think that probably 30-70 percent of our fruit can be harvested with robotics.”
Ideally, Driscoll’s is aiming to use Agrobot across all of its fields. Though the technology will be most useful in harvesting areas that are in full production rather than areas where fruit growth is more sporadic, such as the front or back ends of fields. As of right now, the company is continuing its research project on its fields in Oxnard, California. Agrobot’s contributions to Driscoll’s overall production has increased year over year since the company first utilized the tech nearly five years ago, putting the berry connoisseurs one step closer to providing a competitive advantage to all brands that pack strawberries.
The labor issue is an industry issue.
- Soren Bjorn
“The labor issue is an industry issue,” Soren asserts. “If Driscoll’s, or anyone else for that matter, can help reduce that burden on the industry, we’d not only be helping ourselves but we’d be actively helping everybody; our competitors included.”
So, what makes Agrobot tick?
The machine boasts a large set of robotic manipulators able to acutely locate and identify delicate strawberries in the field, selecting them for harvest based on each berry’s size and degree of ripeness. With precise cuts, Agrobot and its collection system guarantees the very accuracy, smoothness, and sensitivity that a carefully grown berry demands.
The bot’s accuracy is no cause for concern either, according to Agrobot’s architects. The machine has been instilled with an artificial vision system to offer maximum accuracy and consistency at the hands of the bot. This particular facet of tech identifies each consumer-beloved berry using a morphological and color analysis in real-time that emphasizes to Agrobot the particular ripeness of each fruit morsel. Standards set by an ag company themselves are used by Agrobot to distinguish berries ripe for the picking from those still needing time left in the field before being plucked from their nourishing beds.
Upholding industry food safety measures, Agrobot also offers produce providers clean picking conditions for berries. Each tiny nub of flavor is driven by the machine’s FlexConveyor system to the workstation area. Once here, human hands can either change out trays of strawberries to be packed later out of the field, or fill clamshells right in the row with perfectly plucked berries ready for the store shelves.
Agrobot effectively doubles down on its productivity by fixing two workstations on top of one machine, allowing workers to monitor the bot at work. Each station ensures the strawberries are harvested and packed in accordance to a berry company’s specific standards. To navigate between rows of these delectable and fragile berries, Agrobot employs its own specific system of movement. Together with its automatic operation system, Agrobot gracefully sweeps through a field on four steerable wheels for an operating concept that the company says can allow anyone to immediately begin harvesting in an efficient manner.
As the concerns and challenges of this rapidly changing industry remain at the forefront for produce companies–big or small–technology will continue to make innovative breakthroughs in all areas of production and the field; looking to maximize efficiency, sustainability, and quality along the way.
It’s a brave new world for fresh produce, and if Agrobot has anything to beep about it, strawberries may just be leading the charge.