Flying Robots use Artificial Intelligence to Pick Fruit

These autonomous robotic pickers could help farmers harvest their crops.

Nov 4, 2022
Flying Robots use Artificial Intelligence to Pick Fruit | These autonomous robotic pickers could help farmers harvest their crops.

Harvesting orchards is a very precise operation. The fruit must be picked when it is perfectly ripe. But with pickers in short supply in recent years, growers needed to quickly find another way to harvest their crops. An Israeli startup, Tevel Aerobotics Technologies located in Gedera, came to the farmers' rescue with the only flying autonomous robots (FARs) that pick fruit.

“Finding fruit pickers is every farmer’s biggest concern,” Yaniv Maor, the company’s founder and CEO told NoCamels. “Ask any farmer, anywhere in the world and they’ll tell you they don’t have the people. Food consumption is increasing, but labor availability is decreasing. There is a gap, and that gap is growing.”

If pickers are not available, fruit will rot on the trees. The flying robots will work all day and night in any weather, without taking a break or needing a visa.

Maor set up Tevel in 2017 and developed the technology after seeing young Israeli’s picking fruit tiring out after a few hours. He realized that there had to be a better way, so he began developing the software, artificial intelligence (AI), and algorithms that are needed for the smart robot pickers,

“We have to teach the robot about each fruit, about the foliage, the branches, the leaves, how to access the fruit, how to rotate it and disconnect it from the tree,” Maor said. 

How do the robots work?
The flying robots hoover near a tree and pluck only the ripe ones with a twist of its integrated grasper arm. The robots are fitted with cameras that use AI to assess the size and color of the fruit so that only the ripe pieces are picked. The cameras also ensure that the robots’ paths are not blocked according to New Atlas,

The FARs are tethered to a platform that acts as the power source, so that they never run out of juice. Tevel can deploy dozens of these smart robots across an orchard during the time when the fruit is ready to be harvested.

The plan is to rent out the fleets of FARs when the growers let the company know how many they need and how long they will be used. Once deployed, the AI provides real-time information for the farmers.

While there are other autonomous pickers, they are large ground-based machines that are not as maneuverable or cost efficient, reported NoCamels.

What’s Next?
The robots are currently picking Asian pears in Israel. In 2022, the FARs were used in pilot programs in Italy to pick peaches and nectarines, as well as in California.

“We are moving into Spain, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and Asia,” Maor told NoCamels. “We are also planning to go to China and Japan. Every year we are planning to expand to more and more geographies.”

The startup is also working on developing AI for additional crops like avocado and mango which are stem fruits so cutting and not twisting is required. Tevel plans on adding additional tasks to the robot’s repertoire like pruning and spraying.

“We’re not a substitute for labor, we are a solution for the labor shortage,” says Maor. “In the future fewer people will work in picking and more will work managing the robots, analyzing the data and making decisions.”

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.