A robot that picks ripe strawberries while farmers sleep has been unveiled with claims it could cut workloads by two-thirds.
The device, unveiled Wednesday, can pick a piece of fruit every eight seconds by using three cameras to determine which strawberries are ready to pick. A mechanized arm then darts out to snip each one free and place it into its basket.
The 2-meter robot moves on rails between rows of strawberries, which in Japan are usually grown in elevated greenhouse planters.
It “calculates the degree of ripeness from the color of the strawberry, which it observes with two digital cameras,” said Mitsutaka Kurita, an official at Shibuya Seiki, the developer of the machine.
“It also uses the images from the two cameras to calculate the distance from the target, then approaches the strawberry it is aiming at,” he said.
A third camera takes a detailed photo of the fruit, which it uses for the final calculation before moving in to snip it.
Strawberry farming is highly labor-intensive, requiring 70 times the work of rice farming and twice that of tomatoes and cucumbers, according to the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization, which helped develop the robot.
“This robot would harvest two-thirds of the strawberries during the night when growers are sleeping,” Kurita said. “The farmer can then pick the rest of the strawberries that the robot couldn’t get at.”
The robot will go on sale early next year for about ¥5 million.
Strawberries are available all year round in Japan and typically fetch ¥500 for a small basket.