Robot News: An Army of Strawberry Picking Robots Coming to Your Garden Soon!
It is true that the world we live in now is a world of robots. They are used in America's factories and in its service industries as well. There are robots that can talk, explore and mine the depths of the ocean, and pursue other exciting challenges like exploring space. In this article I'd like to discuss a new effort to create a robotic system that can effectively pick strawberries. When I say that I mean an effort to compete with humans at this same task.
"You kind of learn, when you get into this — it's really hard to match what humans can do," says Bob Pitzer, an expert on robots and co-founder of a company called Harvest CROO Robotics.
Any 4-year old can pick a strawberry, but machines, for all their artificial intelligence, can't seem to figure it out. Pitzer says the hardest thing for them is just finding the fruit. The berries hide behind leaves in unpredictable places.
It is funny to think that picking strawberries is actually an extremely difficult task but apparently we just don't realize how much effort goes into finding and picking the sweet red fruit.
"You know, I used to work in the semiconductor industry. I was a development engineer for Intel, and it was a lot easier to make semiconductor chips," he says with a laugh.
Pitzer's strawberry-picking robot is about to meet its latest test. It's rolling, ever so slowly, into a strawberry field near Duette, Fla. This contraption drives itself. It's as big as a bus, long enough to to straddle a dozen rows of strawberries at once. Powerful computers are sitting on top. Underneath, there are high-definition cameras to find the berries, and an array of robotic claws ready to pick them.
This is a pretty amazing undertaking if you ask me! I see this as having both benefits and potential risks for humanity and the employment opportunities that exist on this planet...
"Nobody's telling it what to do," explains Paul Bissett, the chief operating officer of Harvest CROO Robotics. "It's remembering its path down the row. It's remembering where all these plants are."
It knows all this, thanks to super-accurate GPS. Its computer brain contains a map showing the exact locations of every strawberry plant in the field. When it gets to a strawberry plant, bright lights flash; cameras spin in a circle.
Take a look at this picture below and see for yourself what an amazing undertaking this really is when you try to get a robot to do something that any one of us can do easily!
"They're creating stereo images of the strawberries as they're spinning around," Bissett says. "When it finds one — you just saw the claw reach down, grab it."
For all this technology the robot still isn't quick at filling the baskets with strawberries. Will they ever be able to scale this machine up to the point where it is as good as an experienced human in picking them in terms of the care it takes and speed of which the berries are picked?
"The fact of the matter is, if we don't solve the problem of this labor shortage with automation, the industry's up for a big challenge ahead. The price of fruit's going to be much higher," he says.
Way down at the other end of this field, the real harvest is underway. Workers are bent over strawberry beds. Their hands are flying, plucking berries from vines, dropping them into clear plastic packages, running those packages to a waiting truck. They're putting the machine to shame.
I am pleased to see that humanity is still on top when it comes to picking berries but I have to wonder how long will it take for technologists to solve this puzzle? How long will it take until millions are put out of work doing this job? How many other jobs will this end up making obsolete as a result of success?
On one side we have an aging workforce but on the other side a workforce may not be needed in the future for jobs like this. Its hard to say if developments in these fields are good or bad.
What do you guys think? Please leave your thoughts and comments below!
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Robots Are Trying To Pick Strawberries. So Far, They're Not Very Good At It - NPR