Ripe Robotics set sights on commercial pickersTechnology & Data
The robots are on the move.
Australian start-up Ripe Robotics recently raised $610k for their investor seed funding round, which is good news for the future of orchard agtech.
CEO and co-founder Hunter Jay said this new funding – and a place in the Startmate Accelerator Program – will keep Ripe Robotics on track for commercialisation in the near future.
“We’re going through a big transition at the moment,” Hunter said. “We’ve been working as founders and engineers, now we have a much bigger budget, the guidance of the accelerator program, and a mandate for what we want to achieve in the next year and a half. Achieving commercialisation will let us scale up.”
Eve and the apple
You might remember our story about Clive, the second prototype from Ripe Robotics that was tasked with picking apples out at McNab Orchards and Turnbull Bros in Shepparton, Victoria.
Now, it’s time to meet Eve.
Eve is not quite a prototype: it is essentially the robot that will become commercially available to farmers, after another six months or so of testing, tweaking and improvement.
The aim is for Ripe Robotics to be commercial next year – that means at least one working robot out in the orchards, earning a piece rate wage.
“A commercially viable robot has to be as useful and efficient as a human picker, in the first instance,” Hunter said.
The goal? To surpass humans.
“It will take more development and improvement each season, but the line of improvement in a robot means it’s not just replacing people, but being better,” Hunter said. “That means picking faster, causing less damage, reducing wastage, picking at night, and collecting data about the orchard as it goes – data which is also available to farmers.”
Better AI, better autonomy
Not only does the machine learn, but it is designed to remember where and how it picked fruit in past seasons.
“Because it records all the data for fruit location, ripeness, size, weight and so on, it will be able to draw on the knowledge of past harvests to decide itself where to start picking and whether fruit is ripe,” Hunter said. “It will need less direction and management than human pickers.”
The system is set up to be remote controlled, so the robot can send out an alert if it runs into difficulty, and most troubleshooting can happen in front of a computer – with a technician on hand to service, if need be.
A robot ‘fleet’?
Hunter said the new funding will allow them to upgrade Eve and develop between one to three new robots for next year. Having more robots not only expands Ripe Robotics’ capacity to service multiple farms – it also allows more robots to collect different data that they will share so they can learn from each other.
As the robots become more sophisticated, the ultimate goal is to have a “multi-purpose horticulture robot” that can not only pick fruit, but also provide pre-harvest, post-harvest and detailed analysis services.
For now, Hunter wants growers to get on board with the idea of experimenting with robotic picking in future harvests from 2022 onwards.
“We’re starting orange picking in the second week in September, but we’re already looking ahead to deploying these robots across key growing regions,” Hunter said. “We have a waitlist for the commercial picking services, but it’s not a ‘first in’ basis. We’ll judge based on where the need is, so if a number of growers in one area are keen to use the robots, we can set up a base there. We’d assemble the robots at one place and transport them out to the farms.”
If you are interested in joining the waitlist or would like to learn more, get it touch with Ripe Robotics at email@example.com