Fruit harvesters beware! Robots could be taking your jobs soon. High labour costs are the leading reason given for considering the move to robotics in the horticulture industry. Harvesting with automated, mechanical devices that do the job better than a human hand are becoming the preferred method of harvesting in the world today.
In Australia, labour costs are quickly convincing land owners to make - what they would consider - the smart decision of moving to robotic harvesters. John Lloyd, chief executive of Horticulture Innovation Australia, explains, "We probably have the highest labor costs in the world for horticulture, which is very labor-intensive."
Robotic fleets of workers are not a foreign idea to the engineers of Australia, last year a metals and mining corporation - Rio Tinto - introduced a fleet of autonomous trucks to their fleet. According to AFR.com, it was the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney which assisted the companies with turning to robotics. The same teams are now working with Horticulture Innovation Australia and developing methods for "avocado, mango and other tree-crop growers" for harvesting, pruning and more.
Professor Salah Sukkarieh, the head of the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at University of Syndey said, "At the moment, I can send a robot out into the field and it can detect an individual weed among the crop and it will spray only that weed and not the crop and it will only spray the right amount of herbicide to kill just that weed. So automatically I've reduced the cost of labour and I can reduce it quite significantly and also cut the chemical cost as well."
If these robots can drive themselves and harvest by themselves we could see something similar to the olive harvesters in Italy, without the manual labour: