Skip to main content

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
These robots taser weeds to death so farmers don’t need chemical herbicides
robots taser weeds small robot company

Imagine if every time a weed appeared in your garden, a bolt of lightning came down from the heavens and zapped it off the face of the planet. Were this the case, you could be fairly certain of two things: That you had a higher power firmly on side and that you probably don’t want to be walking around your garden with all that deadly lightning flying about.

A similar but more realistic solution has presented itself in the form of a new agricultural robotics startup called the Small Robot Company. The U.K.-based firm offers a trio of robots that will kill weeds with electricity.

Read more
Bop it, twist it, pull it, grip it: MIT robot hand can pick up objects with ease
MIT Robot Gripper

Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have figured out a way to make a robot grasp an object quicker and more efficiently. 

MIT showed off the robot in a GIF exactly of the claw picking up and adjusting its grip on an object, which is more complicated than it looks for a machine. According to the release, it can take a robot tens of minutes to plan out the possibilities of the sequence, but with a new algorithm, it takes less than a second. 

Read more
Boston Dynamics’ Spot is a cool robot. But is that enough for success?
boston dynamics spot robot no longer a novelty hero v3

When Boston Dynamics first showed off its LittleDog robot a decade ago, in 2009, the world hadn’t seen anything like it. With the exception of new-fangled smartphones, the tech world was still obsessing over software, not hardware. Web advertising, mobile apps, and social networks were in. Hardware, by comparison, was prohibitively expensive and, to many, just not worth the effort. The Nest smart thermostat, Pebble smartwatch, and any number of other smart connected physical devices were still a few years away. A dog robot seemed like the stuff of science fiction.

And it was. It took a number of years and further iterations for Boston Dynamics’ canine bots to develop into the sleek creature we know today as Spot. While Boston Dynamics patiently worked on the robot away from prying eyes (with the exception of the occasional hype video to keep our appetites whetted), dog robots were most readily seen in popular culture like Black Mirror’s “Metalhead” episode. They were a novelty, just like sci-fi robots like The Terminator had been in the 1980s. Skynet meets man’s (or woman’s) best friend.

Read more