The agriculture drone innovation was a direct response to the labor shortage. “There are never enough hands available to pick fruit at the right time and at the right cost. Fruit is left to rot in the orchard or sold for a fraction of its maximum value, while farmers lose billions of dollars every year,” the company says.
The FAR robot uses perception algorithms AI to locate fruit trees and vision algorithms to find the fruit among the foliage and classify its size and maturity. The robot then works out the best way to approach the fruit and remain stable while its picking arm grabs the fruit.
The drones are able to reap the rewards without getting in each other’s way thanks to a single autonomous digital brain in a ground-based unit.
The idea consists of autonomous platforms that each act as a hub for up to 6 harvesting drones. The platforms navigate through the orchards and provide computing/processing power to quadcopter agriculture drones which are connected to the platform via a central cable. For their navigation, the platforms are guided by a harvesting plan defined in the command and control software.
Each drone is equipped with a delicate gripper and several neural networks are responsible for detecting the fruit. Merging data of fruit location and its quality from different angles, targeting the fruit, calculating foliage and fruit, measuring of maturity and calculating the trajectory and maneuvering through the foliage to the fruit as well as plucking or cutting the fruit from the tree. Once harvested, the fruit is placed in a container on the platform and as soon as a container is full, it is automatically swapped for a new container.
The farming drone was initially designed to harvest apples, later peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots were added.
“We add another variety of fruit every week,” says Tevel. The farming drone comes with a library of fruit, to choose from and configure the FAR.
“Fruits are very high-value crops,” Maor explains. “You grow them all year round, then you only have one production time. Hence, the value of each fruit is very high. You also have to choose selectively, not all at once.
All of this robotic intelligence hasn’t been easy, cheap, or quick to bring to market: The system has been in development for about five years, and the company has raised about $30 million.
Tevel’s FAR agriculture drones are ready for sale, but not directly to farmers, but through vendors who build the harvesting and transport systems to take the fruit from farm to table.
Tevel charges a fee software-as-a-service (SaaS) which includes all costs for the farmer. The price varies depending on how many robots are in demand.
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