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IFTA’s summer field tour in New York last year focused on automation technologies and growers who are utilizing new equipment to save on labor.

And automation is still on everyone’s minds.

At the IFTA conference in Washington in February, two speakers shared updates on apple harvesters currently under development.

Abundant Robotics aims to have an automated apple harvester available for commercial use in the U.S. by the 2018 harvest. Read and watch more about the company’s efforts in the November 2016 issue of Good Fruit Grower.

Growers at IFTA also got a first look at another automatic harvester in the works from Israel-based FF Robotics.

Avi Kahani

Avi Kahani

Founder Avi Kahani said that the key to his system, which uses a three-pronged gripper for picking, is a fruit identification algorithm that “learns” in each orchard so that the harvester can adapt to the specific cultivar and canopy structure.

The company is currently focused on apples, Kahani said, but thanks to the learning software, eventually the harvester should be able to pick a variety of tree fruit after swapping in specialized grippers.

The automatic picker should be able to harvest about 85 percent of the crop, leaving the rest for hand-picking. But even including the labor cost of hand-picking the remaining apples, Kahani said he expects his harvester to offer growers a return on investment in just two years.

FF Robotics is planning to bring a prototype to test in orchards in Washington this fall.

– by Shannon Dininny