Autonomous fruit-picking robots could help solve endemic labour shortages that have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With this in mind, Kubota is investing US$20 million in Tevel Aerobotics Technologies, an industry leader in the flying, autonomous fruit-picking robot harvesting segment.
Founded in 2017 in Israel, Tevel is developing autonomous flying robots for fruit picking and is combining artificial intelligence with computer vision, advanced robotics, aeronautical engineering, state-of-the-art flight control and data fusion and perception.
Every year, over 800 million tonnes of fruit are produced in an area of 70 million hectares worldwide, representing an annual market value of US$1 trillion; and every year, growers spend $100 billion on fruit picking, and recruit over 10 million seasonal workers to pick their fruit. These temporary workers are increasingly harder to find, recruit, train, employ and house.
It is a task further compounded by their ability to harvest fruit within a short and competitive timeframe, alongside the complexity of crossing borders during the COVID-19 crisis – aspects which have further contributed to labour shortages. Therefore, Tevel’s solution seeks to increase global food security by providing an available and reliable supply chain.
Tevel has solved numerous technological challenges and is expected to implement commercial roll-out of its fruit-picking robots in 2021. It says its solution delivers the highest performance at the lowest cost, along with high levels of flexibility that enable the harvest of multiple fruit types, including apples, pears and avocado.
The robots are connected to a self-driving vehicle, which is also the power source. Each self-driving vehicle is equipped with six flying robots that have arms in order to retrieve the fruit. The robots are not only able to detect fruit and foliage, but also size and even ripeness. A smartphone app provides farmers with updates and data, including how many pounds of fruit have been picked and the estimated time required for the robots to complete the harvest.
With this investment in Tevel, Kubota says it has taken steps to accelerate its innovation philosophy with the objective of creating new business opportunities, products and services for the farming industry. The strategic positioning of Kubota as a leader in global agriculture and equipment manufacturing, together with Tevel, will reinforce the company’s development of automation technology for fruit picking, it claims. It will also enable the launch of a solutions business utilising these technologies, that will contribute to labour-saving and efficiency gains in farming.