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AI-Driven Robots Pick Fruit in Apple Orchards

by Marco van der Hoeven

Fruit producer Unifrutti has partnered with Tevel, an Israeli robotics startup, to use artificial intelligence (AI)-driven robots in Chilean apple orchards. This initiative marks a new approach to fruit harvesting, with the potential to address labor shortages and other challenges that the global agriculture industry faces.

For the first time in South America, AI-powered drones are being used for apple picking. The Linares orchards of Unifrutti in Chile have begun to test this technology developed by Tevel. Over a harvesting season from March to May, these autonomous robots were deployed, integrating artificial intelligence, computer vision, and machine learning algorithms in the process.

German Illanes, General Manager of Unifrutti in Chile, commented, “We are exploring the potential of Tevel’s autonomous harvesting technology. This collaboration is part of our ongoing efforts to enhance our operations and prepare for the future of the fruit industry.”

Yaniv Maor, CEO & Founder of Tevel, shared his perspective, “Our partnership with Unifrutti is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of our technology in a real-world setting.”

Labor shortages in the global agricultural sector have been a persistent challenge, leading to decreased fruit quality, increased labor costs, and revenue loss from unpicked fruit. Tevel’s technology presents a potential solution to these issues. Its robots, named Flying Autonomous Robots™, are mounted on a ground harvesting platform and are designed to carry out precise and efficient fruit picking.

During the harvesting operations in Chile, Tevel reported improvements in system performance and reliability. The AI-driven robots’ ability to distinguish between ripe and unripe fruit is being assessed, with the aim to increase the proportion of high-quality fruit harvested.

However, the shift towards automation in agriculture also raises concerns, particularly around the potential impact on manual labor. As this technology continues to evolve, the sector will need to address these issues while considering the benefits of automation.

The collaboration between Tevel and Unifrutti has garnered interest from producers globally, suggesting a growing curiosity about the integration of AI and robotics in agriculture. This project in Chile’s orchards could signify a step towards a new era in agriculture and potentially change the future of fruit harvesting. However, further research and trials are required to fully understand the impact and efficacy of these technologies in real-world applications.

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