Strawberry fields will forever be changed by robots that can automatically identify and pick ripe berries, according to Japanese researchers.
Developed by the minds at an organization aptly abbreviated IAM-BRAIN (that's the Institute of Agricultural Machinery's Bio-oriented Technology Research Advancement Institution), the machines can harvest more than 60 percent of a strawberry crop.
Even though each machine takes nine seconds to pick a strawberry, they can cut harvesting time from 500 hours to 300 hours for a 1,000-square-meter field (about a quarter-acre), BRAIN's Shigehiko Hayashi explains in the video below.
The robots can also pick strawberries at night. There's more video of the machine at work here, on BRAIN's Japanese page.
The berry bot has a stereo camera system that images the strawberries in 3D. Image-processing algorithms gauge their ripeness, and if a berry is at least 80 percent red, the machine neatly snips it at the stem and deposits it in a bin.
Japanese farmers are field-testing experimental versions of the robots and testing is expected to be complete by the end of the year.
A commercial version might also be able to harvest crops like tomatoes. Doubtless fruit that doesn't color while ripening is more challenging for robots to recognize and pick properly.
Meanwhile, the machine recently harvested an excellence prize at the annual Robot Awards sponsored by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Other winning robots included that winsome fembot HRP-4C from Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).
They may not be as cool as tweeting cows in terms of farming innovations, but at least BRAIN's robots can lighten the labor-intensive harvest. If they help make good shortcake, all the better.