Tevel Robotics demonstrate drone picking Nov. 17 in the lobby at Interpoma, an international apple trade show and conference in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy. Organizers expected roughly 20,000 people to attend the event with 490 companies represented. (Ross Courtney/Good Fruit Grower)

The tour-goers with International Fruit Tree Association ended their Italian tour with two days at the big event, Interpoma, the only international trade show dedicated solely to apples, held every two years in the Alpine city of Bolzano, South Tyrol.

South Tyrol is the largest apple producing region of Italy and one of the most advanced in Europe.

The trade show featured multiple platform companies, variety tastings, battery powered pruning shears designed to stop if they sense a human finger, a combined mower and sprayer, and lots and lots of tractors.

But one of the hottest tickets at Interpoma was a series of presentations from a lineup of seven global robot entrepreneurs and researchers. All of them projected fully commercialized versions of their prototypes pruning, picking, thinning apples, and more within a decade.

“In the 21st century, this doesn’t have to be an expensive solution,” said Hunter Jay, CEO of Ripe Robotics of Australia.

Other companies presenting were Advanced.farm, Aigritech, Fresh Fruit Robotics, Monash University, Munckof Fruit Tech Innovators and Tevel Robotics.

Besides presenting, the Israeli company Tevel set up shop in the front lobby with a public address narrated to live demonstrations using synthetic apples hanging from plastic tree rows. While most of the startups use robotic arms to pick apples, Tevel’s machine consists of drones tethered to a bin carrier.

Vendors sprawl over one of the trade show floors at Interpoma, which organizers estimated would attract 20,000 visitors for the three-day event. (Ross Courtney/Good Fruit Grower)

Other speakers covered U.S. apple production. One of them was Stefano Musacchi, a Washington State University pomologist and researcher, who moved from his Italian homeland to Washington about nine years ago. Musacchi discussed the intricacies of American agricultural research funding and lauded the way growers and researchers collaborate even before he writes grant proposals.

“This is really a great system,” he said.

Other highlights were tours to nearby orchards and research facilities, the Variety Garden and working miniature packing equipment.

—by Ross Courtney

The foothills of the Alps backdrop the entrance to the Interpoma venue. (Ross Courtney/Good Fruit Grower)