The idea of apple picking being assisted by cutting-edge robotic harvesting machines is gaining attention, and Arctic® apples could be a perfect fit with mechanical harvesting.
While interest in these types of technologies is far from brand new (especially for sorting recently picked fruit), there’s been a lot of buzz in 2015 about some significant leaps forward in innovative machinery that can improve harvest efficiency. And, this is not simply a matter of amusing toys, mechanical harvesting can help address real issues. For example, labor shortages are a frequent problem in major apple producing regions like Washington State, where 18 billion apples are grown each year.
As The Packer explained in a recent article, significant research has been ramping up in places like Washington State University (WSU). Projects like the development of robotic hands that select and pick fruit right from the trees are well underway, as is similar technology for use outside of the orchard. Even national organizations like the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in these endeavors.
One of the biggest concerns, however, is how sensitive a robotic hand could be compared to a human touch. WSU assistant professor Manoj Karkee suggests that the goal is to “limit bruising and other damage to fruit below 5% and 10%” but admits “we are not there yet”.
Of course, with food waste being an increasing concern for both producers and consumers, and apples being among the most wasted foods on the planet, minimizing waste from bruising is no small matter. However, superficial bruising is not a concern with Arctic® apples thanks to their nonbrowning benefit, making them an ideal fit for mechanical harvesting techniques.
This is especially the case while these new techniques are being honed and improved, meaning great synergy can exist between both innovative variety development and pioneering robotic harvesting technologies!