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Panasonic built a robot gentle enough to pick tomatoes, but not exactly graceful

Planning on finding a new job for 2018? You can cross “tomato picker” off the list now that a new tomato-harvesting robot has made its debut at the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan.

Built by Panasonic Corp., the robot is designed to be used on farms. Running on a rail, it employs cutting-edge artificial intelligence image-recognition algorithms to identify the position, color, and shape of tomatoes, and then harvests only those considered ripe enough. To do this, it uses a “special end effector” which allows it to pick the tomatoes without damaging them in the process, which is crucial since the tomatoes in question are intended to be sold to customers and eaten. (Although judging from the end of the video above, it’s not above making the occasional mistake.)

According to Panasonic, the robot is able to pick its soft red fare at a rate of around 10 every minute, or one tomato every six seconds. While that may not be a whole lot faster than a human carrying out the same task, the robot is able to improve on human efficiency due to the fact that it is able to work continuously — meaning it can work night shifts and holidays while not needing to take any sick days or vacation time.

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered robots and artificial intelligence in the agriculture industry. Previously, we’ve written about everything from self-driving tractors to robots that are designed to monitor crops. Perhaps the closest parallel to Panasonic’s new tomato-picking robot is a robot created by Belgian engineering company Octinion that’s designed specifically for determining when strawberries are ripe and then picking them without causing any damage.

Panasonic has reportedly been working on its tomato-picking robot for some time. During that period, the company has managed to significantly improve the speed and accuracy of the robot’s arm, ensuring that it not only picks the tomatoes faster, but does so in a way that is unlikely to harm them. There’s no word on when the robot will be officially rolling out to farmers, but given that it is already being shown off in public, we doubt it’s too long before we’ll be enjoying robot-picked tomatoes in our salads and on our pizzas.

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