Funding boost for aerial fruit-picking robot firm

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Japanese tractor manufacturer Kubota has invested US$20m (£14.6m) into robotic fruit-picking company Tevel Aerobotics Technologies.

The funding will enable Tevel to accelerate the development of its autonomous flying robots, which combine AI, computer vision, aeronautical engineering, and data fusion for fruit harvesting industries.

The robots are connected to a self-driving vehicle, which is also the power source. Each self-driving vehicle is equipped with six flying robots featuring arms to retrieve the fruit including apples, pears and avocado.

According to Kubota, the robots are not only able to detect fruit and foliage, but also size and ripeness. A smartphone app provides farmers with updates and data, including how many pounds of fruit have been picked and the estimated time required for the robots to complete the harvest.

With this investment in Tevel, Kubota said it has taken steps to create new business opportunities, products and services for the farming industry.

The funding will also enable the launch of a solutions business utilising these technologies that will contribute to labour-saving and efficiency gains in farming.

A Kubota spokesperson said: “Every year, growers spend US$100bn on fruit picking, and recruit over 10 million seasonal workers to pick their fruit. These temporary workers are increasingly harder to find, recruit, train, employ and house.

“It is a task further compounded by their ability to harvest fruit within a short and competitive time-frame, alongside the complexity of crossing borders during the Covid-19 crisis – aspects which have further contributed to labour shortages.

‘Therefore, Tevel’s solution seeks to increase global food security by providing an available and reliable supply chain.”

Tevel said it has solved numerous technological challenges and is expected to implement commercial roll-out of its fruit-picking robots in 2021.

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