Picking delicate fruit such as berries has long been off-limits for robots. Not any longer if Harvest CROO Robotics succeeds in automating this process.
Its robots with a “gentle touch” are touted to make up for a declining work force and ensure the long-term affordability of produce. Currently, both unions and farmers seem to embrace the new technology.
Video Spotlight: See the Harvest robot at work
This post is based on the Washington Post article, Farmworker vs Robot, by D. Paquette, February 17, 2019, and the YouTube video, Gary Wishnatzki of Harvest CROO Robotics, by Harvest CROO, November 6, 2018. Image source: PKKoala/Shutterstock
1. What are the external factors providing opportunities for Harvest?
Guidance: Political/legal (tighter immigration policies) and economic factors (shrinking American labor pool) raise the prospects of much higher prices for produce if automation does not replace human labor. Technological factors (advances in robotics) help Harvest equip farmers with the necessary tools to make up for labor shortages and improve productivity since robots do not take breaks and do not need benefits.
2. What are the foreseeable limitations of the technology in the short term?
Guidance: Currently, the robots still lag behind experienced pickers in terms of harvesting fruit without damaging it. Moreover, the camera eyes are not programmed yet to recognize fruit that is rotten or that is larger or smaller than the norm and to adjust the grip of the claws accordingly. The technology is also prohibitively expensive for smaller farmers.
3. What is the impact of this technology on the workforce?
Guidance: The foreseeable impact of automation on agricultural workers will probably be similar to that experienced by manufacturing workers: fewer physical demands and better working conditions, creation of higher-skilled jobs (engineers and technicians) with better wages, but definitely fewer jobs available.