A commercial robotic fruit harvest is underway in Hawke’s Bay in what’s thought to be a world first.
Plucking Kiwi-bred Gala and Jazz apples off specially grown trees, the red and white machine is set to be a game-changer in agribusiness automation.
Gary Wellwood, who serves as global innovation manager for T&G Global, says it is innovation that doesn’t mean staff layoffs.
“It's going to be an enhancement to our labour need. We're looking to upskill our labour to more tree management rather than the hard work involved in picking apples,” he told 1 NEWS.
It took four years of specific planting and pruning to get the orchard robot-ready. The trees are trained to grow in a flat 2D plane, rather than the traditional 3D canopy.
“All of the trees that we plant now will last for 20 to 30 years,” Mr Wellwood said. “By seeing this machine in action we know that a robot is going to be visiting them in their lifetime.”
The robot is designed to pick an apple every second, harvesting in a day the amount of fruit that seven to 10 people could pick by hand.