Farming has long evaded true automation. Where manufacturers create controlled environments perfect for precisely attuned machines performing repetitive tasks, the messiness of biology has long made automating growing things extremely challenging. Robots didn’t have the precision to pick things growing at uncertain heights, they didn’t have the judgment to identify ripeness, and they weren’t smart enough to navigate fields or greenhouses of uncertain geometry.
Well, they used to not have those traits.
Earlier this week, the Japanese Agriculture and Food Research Organization presented its strawberry picking robot: A droid that rolls along a track through fields of strawberries, scan the strawberries through stereoscopic cameras and check their color, then pick them if their ripe. In this way it can whip through 247 acres in 300 hours, far faster than the typical rate of 247 acres in 500 hours using human pickers.