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Startup says time is ripe for fleets of drones to help farmers pick fruit

Fewer and fewer people work in agriculture globally, and just 1 percent or so of all Israeli workers are employed in the field, according to the World Bank.

Now, Gedera area-based Tevel Aerobotics Technologies says it has come up with an automated flying machine that can do the labor-intensive fruit-picking quickly and efficiently, taking over from humans in the orchards and greenhouses.

Tevel’s machine integrates artificial intelligence vision, balancing, maneuvering and perception algorithms, along with mechanical features, sensors and a strong processor.

Tevel’s prototype is able to recognize fruit types according to their size, color, and ripeness, making it sensitive to the kind of fruit is picking. So far, it can detect oranges and many varieties of apples, and will be able to pick many other kinds of fruit in the future, including mangoes and avocados.

Various gripper-models have been developed for each kind of fruit and for other specific tasks, like also pruning and leaf-thinning tasks in orchards and greenhouses.

The cost of the technology will be competitive and that the company’s immediate market — for apple and orange harvesting in the US and Europe — is worth some $5 billion. The worldwide market for fruit picking amounts to some $500 billion per year.

Tevel Aerobotics Technologies was founded in August 2016 and employs around 15 people.