With a twist and a pull, a three-fingered end effector on FFRobotics’ picker plucks a Kanzi apple from the canopy. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)
With a twist and a pull, a three-fingered end effector on FFRobotics’ picker plucks a Kanzi apple from the canopy in 2019. FFRobotics is one of the AgTech companies participating in an harvest automation acceleration effort led by Western Growers. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

As part of its Global Harvest Automation Initiative, Western Growers announced the selection of 13 ag tech companies that will comprise the initial cohort of collaborators on the effort that aims to bring automation to specialty crop harvests in the next decade. 

Walt Duflock, vice president of innovation at Western Growers, said in a press release that working together through the initiative will allow the companies to collaborate on shared components and systems to get robust technology into growers’ hands faster. 

“Most harvest startups build the entire technology stack themselves — from imaging and artificial intelligence to robotic end-effectors and automated movement up and down the fields,” he said in a statement. “The innovators in this cohort are both startups and established companies that will get help integrating with industry-standard tractors, robot arms and sensors, which can commoditize up to 60–80 percent of the startup’s technology stack.”

One of the companies included is FFRobotics, an Israel-based apple harvester that’s worked with Washington State University and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, which has partnered with the initiative. Another orchard harvest company, Australia-based Ripe Robotics, will also be participating. 

According to the press release, other participating companies include:

Advanced Farm Technologies: Provides advanced farming tools, such as automated strawberry harvesting robots, for harvesting services.

Antobot: Builds a team of small intelligent agriculture robots with advanced computer vision and robotics technology.

Augean Robotics: Helps solve the labor problem facing farmers by making autonomous collaborative robots.

Earth Rover: Makes field robots that automate scouting, harvesting and weeding, and provides farmers with per-plant data from seed to gate.

FarmWise: Designs driverless tractors that use machine learning and computer vision, rather than herbicides, to eradicate weeds from farmers’ fields.

Muddy Machines: Builds a new generation of field robots that help growers manage labor-intensive crops by conducting fieldwork.

Oxbo International Corporation: Designs, manufactures and distributes innovative harvesting equipment and related products.

Ramsay Highlander: Original equipment manufacturer and custom manufacturer of design-built harvesting aids, mechanical harvesting machines and specialized harvesting machines for the vegetable growing industry.

Robotics Plus: Enables sustainable growth of the horticultural and fiber industries through robotics and automation.

SPUDNIK Equipment Company LLC: Manufactures potato harvesting and handling equipment.

Strio AI: Automates labor-intensive tasks for specialty growers, starting with runner cutting for strawberries.