Root AI's Virgo robot is designed to pick tomatoes. It has a camera and artificial intelligence software that analyzes whether the tomato is ripe, and an arm with delicate "fingers" that swings out and snags the fruit right off the vine. The machine has been tested at a greenhouse in California, and if everything goes according to plan at Root AI, consumers might be eating a Virgo-picked cherry tomato sometime next year.
The robot’s “fingers” are made of a food-safe plastic that’s about as flexible as a credit card, and easily cleaned. Josh Lessing, founder and CEO of Root AI, says that easy-to-clean trait is important.
“People don’t think about this -- you have to manage disease on a farm. Just as if I picked with my own hands, there’s a risk of spreading around mold, viruses or insects with a robot. That’s why you want these to be washable. It is part of the work you do to keep the plants safe.”
One of the most unique things about the Virgo, he notes, is that the company can write new AI software and add additional sensors or grippers to handle different crops. “It’s a complete mobile platform enabled to harvest whatever you need,” says Lessing.