Raspberries

There’s a farm in the UK that grows raspberries. It has always had pickers to come in and harvest the crops at the right time, but now it’s working with an automated picker and the results are looking good.

The robot does the work of a person, and does it for 24 hours a day and for as many days as the need exists. Then it stops and waits.

The robot doesn’t eat anything or need space to move around in between jobs or heat or food. It just waits and, when there’s a crop, it’s ready to go again.

Other farms like this idea too and are watching closely.

Apples

We know of an autonomous tractor designed to do the job of conventional tractors in orchards – crowded, obstacle-strewn places – and it’s working out well. The tractor runs out to collect, tow, carry and mow, and then returns itself to a charging point to be refuelled and re-instructed.

When it’s not working, it waits.

Farmers are facing a problem with the UK workforce. People prefer, given the choice, not to work on their knees in fields. So, people with fewer choices do those jobs and, at the moment, many of those people have come to the UK because work is easier to find than in their home country. And even the migrant population prefers to work in towns where other facilities are easier to find and enjoy.

Supply

But Brexit has slowed immigration of the people who are prepared to do the jobs, for less money, that the native population doesn’t want, so farmers are looking at other solutions.

Automation has taken an autonomous step forward.

The result may be a reduction in openings for migrant workers and an increase in jobs skilled in the art of managing robots. The landscape is clearly shifting and autonomy is growing more acceptable, more competent and more efficient.

Picking up a trend

I’ve written many times that the concepts we imagine will enter our markets in about five years, most often gain market share inside eighteen months.

On 4th January 2017, I wrote a blog called Augment yourself that opened with the line, “We’re going to let you in on a secret: Artificial Intelligence’s dirty little secret.
AI hasn’t got legs and it won’t march over the hill and steal your job.“

Eighteen months on, the picture shifted to make automated, commercial fruit picking possible today. AI may still be a way off, but autonomous machines, that can do the same things people can, are here. If you doubt it, take a look at the reporting of robots in distribution warehouses like Amazon and Ocado, where most of the work is already automated.

So, whether you like it or not, food picked from a tree, a bush, or in a warehouse is likely to have had some non-human intervention before it reaches you.

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