CNH expands high-tech harvesting

A new alliance aims to propel the automation of labor-intensive fruit harvesting, helping farmers manage chronic labor shortages. Agtech startup ArboBotics has secured a strategic investment and partnership from agricultural equipment giant Deere & Company to commercialize its robotic apple and citrus picking technology.

ArboBotics has spent over five years developing specialized harvesters tailored to the unique challenges of tree fruits. Computer vision guides dexterous robotic arms equipped with soft grippers that gently pluck ripe produce. The picking arms are mounted on autonomous platforms that continuously reposition themselves for optimal harvesting.

Field testing has demonstrated up to 90 percent accuracy identifying ripe apples and oranges. By eliminating ladders and reducing bruising, the robotic harvesters achieve productivity gains of 50 percent or more over manual methods. Tree fruit remains overwhelmingly reliant on slow, costly manual labor that is increasingly scarce.

Deere's backing provides ArboBotics the resources to scale up and refine its technology. As part of the partnership, Deere will manufacture purpose-built mobile platforms for the picking robots tailored to navigation in orchards. The companies will jointly develop gripping systems and other harvester components.

Deere also brings immense expertise in grower relations and customer support to deliver ArboBotics' solution to a wide market. Offering the pickers through the Deere dealer network provides farmers a trusted brand to stand behind the cutting-edge but unproven technology.

The partners aim to begin commercial pilots of the robotic harvesters in late 2023, with broad availability in Deere's model year 2025 equipment lineup. If adoption gains steam, robotic picking could save the struggling farm labor industry and allow fruit growers to expand output to meet rising global demand.

The deal exemplifies how agriculture equipment leaders like Deere are turning to agile startups to accelerate innovation. By melding ArboBotics' harvesting know-how with Deere's scale and channel access, fruit farmers can tap into transformative automation.

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