A conglomeration of parties, including Japan's National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO), has developed a prototype of a robot that automatically harvests fruit including apples and pears. The group is aiming to commercialize the product in two years.
Shinnosuke Kusaba, head of NARO's production distribution research area, said: "We would like large-scale farmers and others to use it (the robot) to increase yield as workers in the fruit tree industry are decreasing due to the aging population."
Organisations including NARO, based in the Ibaraki Prefecture city of Tsukuba, auto parts manufacturer Denso Corp. and Ritsumeikan University are working together on development of the robot. It can pick a fruit in approximately 11 seconds, which is about the same speed as a person, and collect around 300 pieces of fruit in an hour.
The robot uses cutting-edge technology to identify fruit based on deep learning, through which artificial intelligence learns from automatically identifying characteristics included in data. Using this technology, researchers fed the AI 1,500 pictures of pears. As a result, in the case of Japanese pears, it can recognize ones that are ready to be eaten based on their ripeness, which is judged from the color of the dent at the bottom of the fruit.
Developers are planning to commercialize the robot in around 2022 and begin renting it out. They aim to sell the robot along with the self-driving car and containers at a cost of 6 million yen (roughly $58,000) or less in around 2025.