Farmers will need to feed an estimated 9.8 billion people worldwide by 2050, and to help in that effort, Oregon State University researchers are trying to expand the use of robots in agriculture.  Joe Davidson, Assistant Professor of Robotics, said nearly all fruit is harvested by humans because robots don’t operate efficiently in unstructured environments.


"Not only is it ‘is the color right? Is it ready to be picked?’ but oftentimes fruit are clustered and they may be hidden behind other vegetation. Or, they may be growing in clusters where you have multiple apples, for example, in a small zone where one’s hidden behind the other."


Davidson believes robots are necessary to close the labor gap on farms.  But even once robots learn to pick fruit, and all the nuance that comes with that, he said he doesn’t think they’ll be used everywhere.


“Not all orchards look the same. And so, right now, the robotic systems that are being developed and evaluated, they really only work on one type of orchard system, and that’s high-density."


While Davidson expects robots will eventually pick some acreage within the next five years, he pointed out that most acreage is going to be harvested by seasonal workers.


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