Menlo Park: SRI International spins off new business to automate fruit picking


In as soon as two years, robots, not people, could be picking apples in orchards.

At least, that's the goal of Abundant Robotics, a new agricultural tech company that was officially announced in Menlo Park on Aug. 10.

Three years of research grounding the project have already occurred at SRI International. Research funding has come from SRI International and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, according to CEO Dan Steere, an Atherton resident.

The company's aim, according to Mr. Steere, is "to deliver robotic systems to ease the hardest jobs in agriculture."

More specifically, the company's three co-founders, Mr. Steere, Curt Salisbury and Michael Eriksen, are working on developing an apple-harvesting robot that can drive itself through orchards, "see" apples in trees, and pick them without bruising or damaging the produce, all "at rates which are faster and higher quality than manual labor," Mr. Steere said.

"Many of the healthiest foods for us rely on armies of manual labor (to harvest)," he said. "It simply isn't scaling."

One of the big problems farmers face today is getting enough labor to harvest the fruit when it is ripe, Mr. Steele said. If produce isn't harvested in time, farmers lose their crop, he said.

Improving the efficiency of apple harvesting could increase access to good fruit as the population grows, according to Manish Kothari, Ph.D. and president of SRI Ventures at SRI International.

The robot, as yet unnamed, has so far been tested in Washington state and Australia.

Watch a demo on YouTube, which contains footage from a presentation given in March 2016 and posted online by Good Fruit Grower magazine.


Follow the Almanac on Twitter and Facebook for breaking news, local events and community news.


1 person likes this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2016 at 12:40 pm

Too bad - I think they might have done something more humane, rather than pop out a job-loss solution via tech. How smart is that? Until the earth, esp the US, comes up with a solution for diminishing the importance and need of work and money-making ventures, we might reconsider the value of replacing those with robots! For the convenience and bottom line of corporations. Is there another value to this?

2 people like this
Posted by Roboto
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 22, 2016 at 1:13 pm

I like the idea. This does away with work Americans do not want to do. We can now focus on "diminishing the need for work and money-making ventures" and make every thing free.

Like this comment
Posted by Beth
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 22, 2016 at 1:14 pm

There are two sides of the equation here. This will make fresh produce more accessible and cheaper. When produce prices fall, more families can afford fresh fruit in their diet. The government can buy more fresh fruit for school lunches instead of unhealthy processed foods.

Farmers no longer have to send their over-ripened fruit to become processed food either. Farmers will also have a larger crop they can sell directly to customers via farmer's markets.

This also helps family farms survive as they are less likely to have a ready supply of labor around for harvesting. Instead, they can choose to expand their farming operations because they know they will be able to harvest when the time comes.

2 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 22, 2016 at 1:43 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

@ Beth, Atherton: Where are you going to find the workers? Americans won't pick apples. And, you going to pay $15/hr.?? Maybe the welfare roles could be used. Collect public assist. and no major medical problem, then they can pick apples or any other foot item.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Babka bakery to open Thursday in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 10 comments | 6,242 views

Which Cocktail Has the Least Calories?
By Laura Stec | 15 comments | 1,905 views

UCSB's CCS program
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 952 views