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Robotics Hardware

Japanese Robot Picks Only the Ripest Strawberries 202

Posted by timothy
from the worry-when-it-starts-tasting-them dept.
kkleiner writes "The Institute of Agricultural Machinery at Japan's National Agriculture and Food Research Organization, along with SI Seiko, has developed a robot that can select and harvest strawberries based on their color. Ripened berries are detected using the robot's stereoscopic cameras, and analyzed to measure how red they appear. When the fruit is ready to come off the vine, the robot quickly locates it in 3D space and cuts it free. From observation to collection, the harvesting process takes about 9 seconds per berry. Creators estimate that it will be able to cut down harvesting time by 40%."
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Japanese Robot Picks Only the Ripest Strawberries

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  • One step... (Score:4, Funny)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Sunday December 05, 2010 @03:06PM (#34452500)

    One step away from harvesting humans!

    These robots are the real zombies, they need brains to power their neural net.

  • by ChipMonk (711367) on Sunday December 05, 2010 @03:10PM (#34452536) Journal
    Because if they can, then we'd want the robots to pick them before they're ripe, so that they'll be ripe just as they show up on the display case in the store.
    • From my experience from my garden, no they don't. Might help to gas them with some ethene, which works as a ripening signal molecule in some plants. However... DO NOT WANT...
      • by hedwards (940851)
        Not that big a deal, all you do is mix different fruits together. Things like peaches release ethylene which will cause produce to ripen. There's nothing wrong with that. And honestly there's a bit too much paranoia when it comes to chemicals. The only concern over synthetic versions of natural chemicals is if there's a bit of byproduct left which might be dangerous.
        • by Hatta (162192) on Sunday December 05, 2010 @04:16PM (#34453134) Journal

          It's not that ethylene is bad, it's that ripening off the vine sucks. You're stuck with the amount of flavor when picked, ethylene just softens the fruit. On the vine the fruit can keep adding flavor as it softens. Strawberries are really only good ripened on the vine and eaten within 24 hours of being picked. Anything else is a pale imitation.

          • So than the real solution is to grow food in the locale where its in demand, and have robotics handle the picking and logistics. You're never going to get around time to market if you need to pick the fruit in California and ship it to New York.

        • Yeah, the fruit mixing thing works, true. I have no problems with chemicals per se - heck, I am a biochemist by trade. I just don't want tasteless, textureless industry strawberries resembling the atrocity the Netherlands used to unleash on the world under the label of "tomato". Thankfully that has improved a bit lately, though.
    • by will_die (586523)
      Strawberries and other soft berries will not ripen after they pick. they will start rotting and become soft after picked.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    In under 3% of cases the robot shoots the strawberry with a rocket launcher.

  • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Sunday December 05, 2010 @03:21PM (#34452646) Homepage

    http://knol.google.com/k/paul-d-fernhout/beyond-a-jobless-recovery [google.com]
    "This article explores the issue of a "Jobless Recovery" mainly from a heterodox economic perspective. It emphasizes the implications of ideas by Marshall Brain and others that improvements in robotics, automation, design, and voluntary social networks are fundamentally changing the structure of the economic landscape. It outlines towards the end four major alternatives to mainstream economic practice (a basic income, a gift economy, stronger local subsistence economies, and resource-based planning). These alternatives could be used in combination to address what, even as far back as 1964, has been described as a breaking "income-through-jobs link". This link between jobs and income is breaking because of the declining value of most paid human labor relative to capital investments in automation and better design. Or, as is now the case, the value of paid human labor like at some newspapers or universities is also declining relative to the output of voluntary social networks such as for digital content production (like represented by this document). It is suggested that we will need to fundamentally reevaluate our economic theories and practices to adjust to these new realities emerging from exponential trends in technology and society."

  • by AJWM (19027) on Sunday December 05, 2010 @03:22PM (#34452654) Homepage

    Get the price of such robots down enough and there'll be little incentive to pay sub-par wages to migrant field workers. (Regardless of immigration status, but illegals are more exploitable.)

    Conversely it could be because we've long had a source of cheap field labor that the US agricultural machinery business hasn't made such advances in robotics. Pity, really -- many of the issues a robotic strawberry picker has to deal with are common to the activity of a whole range of other robots. Build a general purpose agricultural field worker robot and have alternate software loads (and perhaps interchangeable picker mechanisms) for blueberries, tomatoes, whatever.

    (Such picker robots, with appropriate sensors, could also be adapted to tasks like minefield clearing. Although that might lead to a scenario like that in the TV adaptation of Heinlein's "Jerry Was a Man".)

    • Unless you change the socioeconomic fabric of most of the 'third world' or somehow manage to pull off a full scale device copier ala Neal Stephenson or Star Trek, the economics are always going to strongly favor the cheap, disposable, highly configurable human.

      To paraphrase Heinlein - Humans can make more humans, that's a trick that robots haven't figured out yet.
      • by timeOday (582209)
        If that were true, we would still be using armies of laborers instead of tractors. Automation has already displaced the vast majority of labor in agriculture. In 1850 [about.com] farmers were 64% of the US labor force; now they're just a couple percent, even though the US is still a net exporter of food. Why would that process stop now?
      • Yeah, but we're fucked if they figure out how to make more robots....

      • by couchslug (175151)

        "Unless you change the socioeconomic fabric of most of the 'third world' or somehow manage to pull off a full scale device copier ala Neal Stephenson or Star Trek, the economics are always going to strongly favor the cheap, disposable, highly configurable human."

        In skilled trades, sometimes, but you typed that post using a computer that wouldn't be possible with pure manual labor.

        In repetitive shitwork, not so much.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday December 05, 2010 @03:45PM (#34452882) Journal

      Picking grapes by machine would be very interesting. If you drive around the south of France, you see fields of grapes for miles, all of which need to be harvested by hand to make wine. There's often quite a short period between the grapes being read to harvest and being overripe for wine making, and harvesting them at exactly the right point can make a big difference to the quality of the final product. If you could make robots that would travel up and down the fields quickly, revisiting each vine each day over a week or so and picking the grapes at exactly the right time (rather than, as humans do, when the majority are at the right level of ripeness), then I can imagine that you'd have some customers who would be very happy to pay a premium for the machine.

      I doubt the situation is the same for strawberries. They aren't exactly luxury goods and so cost is the most important factor.

      • If you could make robots that would travel up and down the fields quickly, revisiting each vine each day over a week or so and picking the grapes at exactly the right time (rather than, as humans do, when the majority are at the right level of ripeness), then I can imagine that you'd have some customers who would be very happy to pay a premium for the machine.

        You would bet right [wikipedia.org]. Mechanical harvesting of grapes has been around for a while. Almonds, too.

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        Depends on your locality, but in Hong Kong strawberries are luxury goods. Only available in winter (then it's cold enough for them to grow), and at really high prices due to limited space to grow them, and requirement of import from far away.

        To save cost, some local farms (yes there are farms in Hong Kong) organise "pick your own" days, where the customer can come to the farm and pick the strawberries they want to buy themselves.

    • by Puls4r (724907)
      Really? That's interesting. I must have missed the pictures where Americans grow their strawberrys on shelves like that, in climate controlled automatically ferilized and watered greenhouses, etc etc etc. I think, perhaps, we might do well to understand what is driving them to that rather expensive farming method: lack of space. That forces them into a tiered shelving system indoor that is already significantly automated and is ideal for a delicate robot vision / automation system that could move along
      • by JanneM (7445)

        I think, perhaps, we might do well to understand what is driving them to that rather expensive farming method: lack of space.

        Nope. There's plenty of farmland around in Japan; a fair amount of high-quality farmland lies fallow, in fact, from a lack of interest in using it. The reasons for the interest in factory farms (the indoor farming you've seen) and robotics are somewhat different. It's potentially much more effective and with higher-quality yield than open-field farming, where each plant gets the optim

  • No Thank You (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Sunday December 05, 2010 @03:39PM (#34452824)
    Truly amazing technology! But... The idea that this sort of thing will free people to lead more leisure lives is nonsense. What technology like this does is eliminate jobs for humans, who will than have to find other jobs, and eventually, in the end, result in huge unemployment, and a more defined caste system of super rich and dirt poor.

    Seriously.
    • Only as long as we allow the constant accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few. It does not necessarily have to be that way.
      • by hedwards (940851)
        You said what I was going to say much more succinctly. 80 years ago the assumption was that workers would be down to like 4 hours a day by now. Due to gains in efficiency. Instead what happened was the rich started to take bigger slices, like they had prior to the labor movement.

        Of course it doesn't help that people start to buy things they didn't need and didn't particularly want and definitely couldn't afford.
        • Well, thank you. The thing to do now is to find a way to make it work for everyone and not for the few. Obviously the orthodox models of Marxism are not doing it, but I still think that shared ownership of the means of production is the only way to go in a fully automatized society. The devil is in the details, as usual, though.
    • Re:No Thank You (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday December 05, 2010 @04:04PM (#34453026) Journal

      Really? I have lots of free time, work far shorter hours, have a much higher standard of living than my parents did at my age and a vastly higher standard of living than any of my grandparents did at my age. I'm definitely not super rich (well, except in the sense that anyone living in an industrialised western nation is in the top 10% of the world's wealth), but I certainly would not be able to enjoy my current lifestyle if it were not for the fact that automation has brought down the cost of living comfortably. If wheat still needed to be harvested by men with scythes and clothes still needed to be hand sewn from cloth made by someone with a hand loom that took a week to weave a single piece (from hand-spun wool), then I would be barely able to afford food, let alone clothes.

      I live in a society where bread is so cheap that I can afford to eat a few slices from a loaf and then throw the rest of it away! And this isn't even a prerogative of the middle classes, even the 'poor' people can generally afford to do it. I can walk into a hospital or a GP's surgery and be prescribed drugs that will cure diseases that would have killed the richest man in the world a hundred years ago. This is almost entirely due to automation.

      Yes, some jobs have gone away, but somehow I don't really find the fact that I never had the opportunity as a child to work in a coal mine particularly upsetting. I am very happy, in contrast, with the fact that I can be paid to write books and articles by a publisher in the USA and by companies all over the world to write code. This would have been completely impossible even thirty years ago and difficult ten or so years ago.

      Seriously.

      • Re:No Thank You (Score:4, Insightful)

        by hedwards (940851) on Sunday December 05, 2010 @04:30PM (#34453276)
        That's not true. My last job was paying $27k a year. Rent around here if you want some place decent to live it is at least $8400 a year, health insurance if you're paying out of pocket is easily another $3600, bus pass is another grand there. Then there's the taxes, another something like $3300 for social security and another grand or so for income tax.

        And when you get to the bottom line there's very little left over for actual life. I was busting my hump for that money, and it still wasn't realistically enough to live a reasonably good life. Certainly not enough to throw away food or waste stuff I'd paid for.
        • What exactly were you doing at your last job in which you were busting your hump for 27k a year?

          My guess would be that whatever it was, if you were doing it (or something comparable) a 100 years ago, your standard of living would've been a lot worse than it is now.

          People tend to forget that malnourishment -- not having enough food to eat -- was constant threat for the majority of world's population for, pretty much the entirety of the existence of the human race, right up to the second half of 20th ce
      • by timeOday (582209)

        I have lots of free time, work far shorter hours, have a much higher standard of living than my parents did at my age

        Are you an immigrant? That is no longer the norm in the US.

        • I've noticed that all of the people replying with counterarguments have made it very clear that they are in the USA. I'm not - I live and was born in the UK, as were my parents and most of my grandparents. I was replying to the grandparent's point that automation never improved the standard of living for anyone other than the ultra-rich. I pointed out that this is clearly not the case. If you want to find a reason for the growing gulf between rich and poor (or ultra-rich and everyone else) in the USA, t
    • Probably true, alas.

  • In the video attached to the story, look at the user interface on the robot - It has a big red button marked "First Blood". Why??

    • by blincoln (592401)

      It has a big red button marked "First Blood". Why??

      Obviously this harvesting robot was repurposed from sort of military super-weapon after said weapon was banned by international treaty and the military supplier needed to recoup its investment. There is no chance - no chance! - that it will revert to its original programming later on and begin harvesting humans instead.

  • Too slow. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Sunday December 05, 2010 @04:17PM (#34453142) Homepage

    From observation to collection, the harvesting process takes about 9 seconds per berry. That's too slow.

    This isn't the first strawberry-picking robot. Here's one from five years ago. [technovelgy.com] But compare this with a commercial strawberry harvester [youtube.com] that's just digging up the beds. (Note, incidentally, that the tractor is driverless. That's standard precision farming technology today; several GPS manufacturers make the gear for that.)

    Automated fruit sorting using computer vision is a routine process, and it's really fast. [youtube.com] Small-fruit sorting machines are strange to watch. Cameras watch the fruit go by, and air jets push it around. This is all happening in bulk, much faster than humans can even watch, as big conveyors pump a stream of mixed product through the machine and streams of sorted product come out.

    Robotic tomato pickers have been built by several groups, but so far the machines are too slow and the cost is too high.

    In practice, the way agricultural sorting works is that the good stuff is sold is fresh fruit, the not-so-good stuff goes off to make jellies, tomato paste, and such, and the rejected stuff becomes animal feed or fertilizer.

  • Institute of Agricultural Machinery

    But are they in charge of Gundam [slashdot.org]?

  • Agricultural mechanization is for Nazis.

  • I guess they will have to revisit this
    statement [wikipedia.org].

"In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current." -- Thomas Jefferson

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