- There’s a global shortage of seasonal fruit pickers, made worse by COVID-19 travel restrictions.
- Some farmers are forced to leave ripe fruit to rot as a result.
- Now AI flying drones can spot the ripest fruit and pick it autonomously.
- The makers say the robots will save money and reduce food waste.
It’s getting harder to find fruit pickers to harvest the world’s orchards. COVID-19 travel restrictions have prevented seasonal workers crossing borders, so some farmers are turning to AI drones to pick their crops.
Even before the pandemic, growers were finding it increasingly hard to recruit people for picking. In July 2019, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) warned of continued labour shortages.
Farmers “try to hire American workers, but there are not many takers – and those who do take farm jobs often quit before the season is over,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall.
Last year, with travel restrictions in place around the world, governments across Europe appealed to those who had lost their jobs in the pandemic to help with the harvest. Spain and Italy even offered to allow illegal migrants the right to work as pickers.
Now an Israeli company, Tevel Aerobotics Technologies, has invented a flying autonomous robot (FAR) which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify and pick fruit. The robot can work 24 hours a day and picks only ripe fruit.