In a strawberry field surrounded by strawberry fields on the outskirts of Santa Maria, a team of robots have been picking berries all summer.
Each robot, made by a Colorado company called Tortuga AgTech, trundles between the elevated beds on rugged wheels, then stops in front of a plant. An articulated arm maneuvers its sensor array among the leaves; machine vision software scours the sensor data in search of ripe berries.
Most California strawberry plants sprout constantly over the course of the season — little green berries sitting alongside fat red ones, nestled among the leaves. If an unripe berry is in the way, the robot repositions for a better angle. A snipper-grabber mounted in the middle of the sensors jabs in to cut the berry’s stem, then gingerly places it in a waiting plastic clamshell in a compartment at the robot’s base. The motion calls to mind a bird hunting, peering and pecking for insects.
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