NZ startup changing the fruit picking game
A Christchurch, New Zealand startup is exploring ways to include robots in fruit picking to end seasonal labour shortages.
YieldTec is a young startup operating out of the Ministry of Awesome's Te Ōhaka, a startup incubator at Ara Institute of Canterbury.
The new business is hoping to revolutionise the fruit picking game, specifically kiwifruit, using robots and a sophisticated tracking software.
YieldTec's business plan uses smart fruit bags that send an automated message to mobile robots when they are full, as well as an app to monitor fruit levels.
The mobile robot automatically moves to the bag/picker location when the message is received and the picker can empty the bag into the robot.
The robot then takes the fruit to the desired destination for sorting or packing, and then repeats the process when another bag is filled.
The system retains the use of a human fruit picker while introducing automated robotics concepts.
YieldTec founder Khaled Salah said his PhD research on horticulture identified the need to retain a human element in fruit picking.
"It turns out when it comes to the actual picking of the fruit, no-one does it better than us, so we want to make it easier for human pickers rather than eliminate them," he said.
"By our calculations, this mix of humans and robots could cut costs in the fruit picking industry by up to 60 per cent."
YieldTec co-founder Angus McGregor said being based in Christchurch and at Te Ōhaka had given the startup exclusive access to a variety of helpful connections.
"There's a lot of resources in Christchurch in this space at the moment, it's become a bit of an innovation hub.
"Te Ōhaka has been bringing it all together – we've had access to accountants, IT experts, business planners and other networks all basically under one roof, which is so so helpful for us."
Salah said the introduction of automated robots could also help put an end to the seasonal labour shortage.