Apple growers in Germany, New Zealand and elsewhere could soon be employing robots to harvest their fruit, after German conglomerate BayWa secured a minority stake in Californian tech startup Abundant Robotics.
In a move that underlines the future potential of automated harvesting systems for fruit, BayWa joined other new shareholders Google Ventures and Tellus Partners in helping to fund a combined US$10m investment round backed by Abundant Robotics’ existing financial backers Yamaha Motor Company, KPCB Edge and Comet Labs.
As the cost of labour rises and its availability diminishes, advances in technology are bringing robotic harvesting within reach of an increasing number of producers in the fresh produce industry – particularly those for whom overall production costs are also rising.
Established four years ago, Abundant Robotics is planning to use its new capital to “deliver robotic systems for the hardest jobs in agriculture” and aims to bring the technology to market some time in 2018. Top of its list, according to reports, is an automated apple harvesting machine.
Other companies developing robotic harvesting systems for fruit include Israeli group FFRobotics, as well as several specialising in berries, such as Belgian firm Octinion, Harvest Croo Robotics in the US, Agrobot in the US and Spain, and Dogtooth Technologies in the UK.
“This investment underlines BayWa’s efforts in gradually expanding digitisation in the agribusiness,” explained BayWa chief executive Klaus-Josef Lutz. “We aim to provide our farmers with access to the latest technologies and smart solutions for cultivation as well as the downstream sector.”
BayWa is the majority owner of New Zealand fresh produce company T&G Global, as well as being parent company of German fruit marketer BayWa Obst and Netherlands-based exotic fruit importer TFC Holland.