May 4, 2017

Robots are coming to pick your apples

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata

Abundant Robotics, a Hayward, Calif.-based developer of apple-picking robots, has raised $10 million in new VC funding. Google Ventures led the round, and was joined by BayWA, Tellus Partners and return backers Yamaha Motor Co., KPCB Edge and Comet Labs.

Why it matters: This is part of a burgeoning wave of farm automation companies that has a little bit of something for everyone to love or hate. It plays to the "tech advancement doesn't cost macro jobs" crowd, because it's so analogous to the tractor. It causes obvious concerns among those who feel exactly the opposite, as there are not as many urban manufacturing jobs anymore to suck up low-skilled rural labor. And then there are the broader policy issues of domestic immigration (this could cut down on demand at a time when supply is threatened by D.C.) and global food production (where long-term shortfall projections are worrisome).

Bottom line: "Years of research on automating the harvest of apples and similar crops, such as pears, had previously come to naught because of the challenges of getting machines to identify fruit reliably and handle it gently enough, he says. But improvements in computing power, vision algorithms, and robotics have made striking new types of automation possible in a variety of industries, agriculture among them." ― Tom Simonite

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