Robots with AI Harvest Crops Amid Labor Shortages


Robots with AI Harvest Crops Amid Labor Shortages

Robots equipped with artificial intelligence are being used to harvest crops in Japan, offering promising results amid labor shortages in the agriculture industry. While these robots are currently slower than human harvesters, they offer a potential solution to the shortage of agricultural manpower.

Smart agriculture is gaining traction in Japan, with hopes that artificial intelligence can take on more labor-intensive tasks and help alleviate the severe shortage of workers. Large-scale greenhouse farmers are leading the way by utilizing AI-equipped robots developed by venture businesses, which could potentially revolutionize the future of cultivating and harvesting agricultural products.

One such example is a four-wheeled AI robot that recently roamed through a plastic greenhouse in Hanyu, Saitama Prefecture, gathering only the ripest cucumbers. Developed by start-up Agrist Inc, the robot uses a camera and AI technology to determine the ideal time for harvest. Takeshi Yoshida, head of the Takamiya No Aisai farm, expressed confidence in the robot’s accuracy, stating that it avoids damaging the cucumber stems. As labor becomes increasingly scarce, the farm has high expectations for the robot’s performance.

Agrist has been developing harvesting robots since its establishment in 2019 and Takamiya No Aisai is the first farm to lease one from the company. The robot relies on its camera to capture images of the cucumbers, accurately identifying and cutting off ripe ones before placing them in a case. The robot’s arm positioning is also precise, ensuring minimal damage to the stems. Agrist hopes that other farms will adopt similar systems in the future.

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In another case, Inaho Inc, an agricultural venture company in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, has leased an AI-equipped robot to a farm in the Netherlands. This versatile robot can automatically pick cherry tomatoes in bunches or individually, depending on the mechanism employed. By analyzing images, the AI system selects multiple ripe and easy-to-pick tomatoes, which are then harvested by the robot. However, due to the complexity of harvesting tomatoes that bunch around leaves and stems, Inaho has developed a robot that harvests approximately 40% of matured tomatoes at night, leaving the rest for human workers during the daytime.

Inaho aims to export its smart agriculture technology worldwide, starting with the Netherlands, a major player in the agri-food industry. Soya Oyama, the chief operating officer at Inaho, believes that the current harvesting robots are capable of adequately supporting farms facing labor shortages. The company has also developed a robot for asparagus harvesting and plans to begin leasing these machines in fiscal year 2025.

Takanori Fukao, a professor of robotics at the University of Tokyo, envisions an expansion of harvesting robots from greenhouse cultivation to open-field cultivation. He suggests that in order to fully leverage robots’ potential, farms may need to plan the placement of crops in advance. As the industry progresses, robots could become indispensable in addressing labor shortages and streamlining agricultural processes.

These developments in Japan’s agricultural sector highlight the potential of robots with artificial intelligence in addressing labor shortages and revolutionizing farming practices. With the ability to accurately harvest crops and minimize damage, these robots provide a viable solution for a growing challenge faced by farmers worldwide.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Related to the Above News

How are robots with AI being used in agriculture?

Robots with AI are being used in agriculture to harvest crops in response to labor shortages. These robots are equipped with cameras and AI algorithms that can identify ripe crops and harvest them with precision.

Are the robots as efficient as human harvesters?

Currently, the robots are slower than human harvesters, but they offer hope for farmers who are struggling to find enough workers. With further improvements, these robots have the potential to transform the future of cultivating and harvesting agricultural products.

What is an example of a company using AI robots for harvesting?

Agrist Inc., a startup in Japan, has developed a four-wheeled AI robot that can harvest ripe cucumbers in greenhouses. Equipped with a camera and AI, this robot meticulously selects only the ripest cucumbers, cutting them off and placing them in a case at a rate of one to three cucumbers every two minutes.

How do these robots identify ripe crops?

The robots use image capture and AI analysis to identify ripe crops. They are programmed to recognize the specific characteristics of ripe crops, such as color, size, and texture, allowing them to selectively harvest only the matured produce.

Can these robots harvest other types of crops?

Yes, there are robots being developed that can harvest other crops as well. For example, Inaho Inc. has developed an AI-equipped robot that can pick cherry tomatoes individually or in bunches, depending on the requirements. The AI system analyzes images to identify ripe and accessible tomatoes for harvesting.

Are these robots expected to completely replace human labor in agriculture?

While it may take time for robots to be capable of harvesting all crops, the current generation of robots can effectively support farms facing labor shortages. The aim is to supplement human labor and alleviate the burdens of labor-intensive tasks, rather than completely replace it.

What are the challenges and considerations for farms transitioning to harvesting robots?

Farms will need to consider the placement of crops in advance to facilitate the transition to robot harvesting. This is particularly important for open-field farming. Farms may need to adjust their growing practices to optimize the movement and accessibility of the robots in the field.

What is the future outlook for smart agriculture with AI robots?

The integration of AI-equipped robots presents a promising solution for the agriculture industry. While there is still room for improvement in terms of speed and capabilities, these robots have the potential to increase efficiency and sustainability in food production. The technology is expected to expand beyond greenhouses to open-field farming as well.

Please note that the FAQs provided on this page are based on the news article published. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, it is always recommended to consult relevant authorities or professionals before making any decisions or taking action based on the FAQs or the news article.

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