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Robots To Replace Migrant Fruit Pickers

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the beats-getting-offshored dept.

Robotics 409

Vicissidude sends us to Wired for a look at a fruit-harvesting robot being developed in California. Its development has been funded entirely by agricultural associations, concerned by the uncertainty surrounding migrant immigrant labor. Quoting: "As if the debate over immigration and guest worker programs wasn't complicated enough, now a couple of robots are rolling into the middle of it. Vision Robotics, a San Diego company, is working on a pair of robots that would trundle through orchards plucking oranges, apples or other fruit from the trees. In a few years, troops of these machines could perform the tedious and labor-intensive task of fruit picking that currently employs thousands of migrant workers each season."

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409 comments

Really? (5, Funny)

lionheart1327 (841404) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617461)

Really? How much exactly do these robots cost?
Is it more than about $3 an hour, including maintenance?

And do they reproduce themselves?

Cuz, you've got some strong competition there.

Re:Really? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617477)

Look, these robots are doing the jobs illegal immigrants won't do.

This is 2007. Your robophobia will not be tolerated.

MOD PARENT UP (1)

Engineer-Poet (795260) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617519)

This one is worth a few "Funny" points, if not something else for the thought behind the sarcasm.

Re:MOD PARENT UP (5, Insightful)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617571)

This one is worth a few "Funny" points, if not something else for the thought behind the sarcasm.

I doubt it. I read it as a stereotype parody of anyone who is against illegal immigration. See, if you are not for completely open borders, you are automatically a racist, xenophobe, bigot, red-neck...whatever. He refuses to consider that maybe illegals have no rights, no protection under the law (as far as they know), and they are taken advantage of and abused on a regular basis because they are illegal and are afraid to seek their rights. It makes his side a clear winner when he doesn't mention that people who want a secure border aren't against immigration. We just want a name and simple background check. We are not bigots. Hell, for that matter, I feel the immigration quota should be raised to the number of estimated illegals in the country. What is it, 12,000,000. The number of legal immigrants is capped at 250,000. That's a joke! NO wonder there are so many illegals!

Anyway, this machinery is the modern day equivalent of the cotton gin. Only, instead of helping to end the oppression of blacks, it will end the oppression of Hispanics.

Re:MOD PARENT UP (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617597)

Mr, E-Poet:

Sorry, I thought you were responding to different post. Should have clicked the "parent" link to make sure.

You were right, that was kinda funny!

Re:MOD PARENT UP (4, Informative)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617687)

Actually genius the cotton gin prolonged the oppression of blacks.

You see picking cotton just wasn't as profitable as growing other things, until the cotton gin made it more profitable.

Sure it saved some work, but it created much more.

Re:Really? (0)

scenestar (828656) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617479)

That's not the point.

These robots aren't *dirty mexicans*

Face it, some xenophobes would rather burn their money on robot's that comes with an English manual than a spanish speaking migrant.

Re:Really? (3, Insightful)

lionheart1327 (841404) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617489)

You'll find that the worst xenophobes will hire anybody if they can save a few bucks.

Re:Really? (3, Insightful)

king-manic (409855) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617775)

You'll find that the worst xenophobes will hire anybody if they can save a few bucks.

I think a Xenophile will go out of their way to hire minorities they think less of because they can feel snooty in being "above" their employee.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617507)

why do you want to employ people that break our laws and put a strain on the social services? This development is long, long overdue. How long have other farmers been using combines & cotton pickers?

Re:Really? (1, Insightful)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617513)

That's not the point.

These robots aren't *dirty mexicans*

Face it, some xenophobes would rather burn their money on robot's that comes with an English manual than a spanish speaking migrant.


Funny. The people I know that hire "dirty Mexicans" usually end up hiring them for life. They treat their employees as family and their kids as their own. For that matter, I haven't seen a farmer or rancher yet that didn't put his "hired hand's" kids through college. Granted, these weren't migrant workers, but illegals with "anchor babies", but dirty Mexicans (your words, not mine) nonetheless.

I'm afraid you have no idea as to what you are talking about. Spouting negative stereotypes won't make you look any smarter.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617587)

I'm afraid YOU have no idea what you are talking about. Or at the very least you lack some necessary reading comprehension skills.

Seriously, go read the parent post again. I'll wait. If you're still confused come back and I'll explain it to you like a kindergarden teacher would explain 2+2=4 to a 5 year old.

Ready? Ok. The parent effectively said that "some xenophobes would rather burn their money on robots" than hire "'dirty mexicans'"*. This is likely a true statement. Notice that he did not say that everyone who hires immigrants or illegals would rather spend their money on robots to do the same job. Far from it. He said "SOME XENOPHOBES" would rather spend money on machines than hire illegals.

I highly doubt the people you know that put their workers' children through college are xenophobes, and even if they were it does not contradict the parents statement, because he said SOME, not ALL xenophobes. Seriously it's not that hard to parse.

*I would also like to point out that the parent used the term "dirty mexicans" facetiously, which is likely obvious to everyone other than (apparently) you.

Re:Really? (2, Insightful)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617641)

Ready? Ok. The parent effectively said that "some xenophobes would rather burn their money on robots" than hire "'dirty mexicans'"*. This is likely a true statement. Notice that he did not say that everyone who hires immigrants or illegals would rather spend their money on robots to do the same job. Far from it. He said "SOME XENOPHOBES" would rather spend money on machines than hire illegals.

I'm afraid you missed it. You are correct that he said SOME xenophobes would rather burn their money or robots than hire dirty Mexicans. However, you missed the understood portion that says, "the rest are too cheap to let their xenophobia overrule their wallets so they go ahead hire the "dirty Mexicans" anyway."

Besides, xenophobia is a bad term to use anyway. Intolerance of the unfamiliar is not an accurate description of farmers who hire migrant workers to pick fruit. These people speak Spanish and know how to get along with their workers. You don't get far in that business without a broad understanding and respect for the people you are hiring.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19618057)

"you missed the understood portion that says, "the rest are too cheap to let their xenophobia overrule their wallets so they go ahead hire the "dirty Mexicans" anyway.""

I see no indication that that's what the post was implying. You are putting words into his mouth. Please respond to what posts actually say.

Re:Really? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617939)

Funny. The people I know that hire "dirty Mexicans" usually end up hiring them for life. They treat their employees as family

  I don''t like to think of Planet Express as a business! I like to think of it more as a source of cheap labor, like a family!

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617537)

Um, no. A lot of wine grape crops in an area I'm familiar with (Paso Robles, CA) went unpicked last season because there weren't enough laborers to pick them. These are small vineyards. The larger growers already have machines (human operated) that can pick grapes, but they're not used on hillsides or on some of the varietals. Given that these smaller vintners essentially had to watch their crops rot on the vine, I'm guessing there were problems throughout the industry, as they were willing to pay quite well.

This is just the market finding a solution (robots) to a problem (shortage of human laborers). Any xenophobia would be at a higher level, like where they make the policies that result in there being fewer available day laborers.

(And, yes, I've worked in the fields, moving sprinkler pipe by hand, harvesting crops, etc. It's backbreaking labor, and if we can automate it, then all the better.)

Re:Really? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617723)

spanish america can go fuck themselfs - if we put up a massive fence along the border i couldn't be happier.

hell do you know WHY mexico isn't part of america? because we don't want the part with all the mexican's, hence why we drew the line at CA. everytime i've been ripped off, abused or robbed it's been a mexican, so excuse me while i don't give a fuck about those assholes.

Re:Really? (3, Insightful)

Fry-kun (619632) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617487)

I think you misunderstand: the point is that the $3/hr labor might become unavailable, sometime soon. That's why they wanted to create a backup plan.
If the $3/hr is available, then of course machinery can't compete with that (at least not until it's rolled out on a large scale and parts for maintenance become dirt-cheap)

Mechanization is the future (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617503)

Low cost, low value added labor is a loser. So is importing millions of people to form a permanent slave class.

This argument was what Southern Slave owners used with Cotton.

Funny, how that chore of cotton picking got automated.

Machines don't get tired. They don't die. They don't need medical care or costly medical plans. They can be made over and over again, and always get cheaper when you make enough of them. The whole advance of human existence has been to make more and better machines, that do more to leverage people's labor.

Hello that is WHY you are reading Slashdot.

Machines replaced slave and later tenant farmer/serf labor in the South. Machines replaced lots of deadly hand labor in coal mines (not entirely but a lot). Machines replaced a line full of low skilled labor on the auto assembly lines with a few high skilled positions.

But hey, for some people having a subservient near-slave class is a plus. Not the kind of society I'd want to live in, but some folks only feel better when they have helots to lord it over I guess.

Where's your Robot Maintenance Robot? (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617573)

Cause, we've yet to make a machine that doesn't need maintenance.

Re:Where's your Robot Maintenance Robot? (1)

Fry-kun (619632) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617599)

That's okay, for the robot model A we'll build a robot model B that maintains model A.
When B goes out of order, model C will take care of that.
When C breaks down, model D will fix model C. ... and so on and so forth. Until model Z, of course.
We'll then just program model A to fix model Z.

Don't worry, we software engineers have everything figured out already :)

Re:Mechanization is the future (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617711)

They can be made over and over again

So can people, and I'd be willing to help out our American allies there. Ha, ha. But ah, with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present Gross National Product within say, twenty years.

Re:Really? (1)

Johnny Mnemonic (176043) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617633)

Well, not having RTFA, I'd assume that they can probably work 24/7. Do the current pickers do that?

And even if they cost more, it might be good insurance against losing your entire crop due to an ill-timed INS raid. I really wonder if the robots can do as good of a job, but if they do something close it could be an interesting part of the debate.

Re:Really? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617783)

Is it more than about $3 an hour, including maintenance?

No -- you've got the wrong idea. These fruit-harvesting robots have nothing to do with agriculture -- they're the Republicans' way of skirting the gay marriage thing.

Long overdue (5, Insightful)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617471)

I've been wondering why this hasn't happened yet for years. The answer, of course, is that the ag industry could rely on incredibly cheap labor, so it wasn't worth developing a technological replacement. But if anything is proof that the debate about illegal immigration has turned a corner, this is it.

Once you've seen the back-breaking labor involved in the California agriculture industry, it's impossible not to applaud the development of technology that will make it obsolete. Nobody says after years of work in the strawberry fields, "Gee, I'm sure glad I got the opportunity to explore my full human potential in that career!"

Re:Long overdue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617559)

However, many of them DO undoubtedly say, "Gee, I'm sure glad I was able to support my family with that career!"

Starving (1)

randolph (2352) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617673)

Most of them say, "I'm glad I didn't starve back home."

Re:Starving (1)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617937)

Most of them say, "I'm glad I didn't starve back home."

And most of us say, "I sure am glad strawberries are so cheap!"

Coal miners are glad not to starve too. That doesn't mean we should continue to use human labor for inhumane tasks.

Re:Starving (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617971)

It's not just about starving. I spent a couple years south of the border, and met a lot of people who had been to the US both legally and illegally. The US dollar is worth so much down there that they can come up and bust their butts working in the fields for 5-8 months, then go back home and take the rest of the year off. All the while, their family is living what is - for down there - a fairly good lifestyle.

Even if you're not starving, it's hard to turn down a job where you get 4 months off every year....

Liberal students were one reason (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617729)

I remember when this subject first came up back in the 80's in California. There was a loud protest by the U.C. students against this type of research. So much so, that it was definitely a politically unacceptable subject, and the research seemed to be moved to the back burner.

You see, students were concerned about the impact on the Farm Workers back then, and didn't want to jeoparize their jobs. It might be a little hard to fathom now, but it was a different time back then. The grape boycott by the Farm Workers Union was still a fresh topic, and people were more radical about liberal causes then.

Plus, believe it or not, at least some Farm Workers considered themselves Middle Class. I once saw this statement in a local newspaper, because the Farm Worker being interviewed could actually own a home.

Oh yes, I was one of those students that shared that belief, though I wasn't vocal about it.

Today is a completely different world. The number of illegal workers in this country have pretty much destroyed any hope of being "Middle Class" for the farm workers. And a good number of students from then have had to shift their job asperations (or are thinking about it), due to the unmitigated number of H1-B's that are flooding the market. That's if they actually have a job (and I know many in this age group who either don't, or are underemployed).

Re:Long overdue (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617811)

Nobody says after years of work in the strawberry fields, "Gee, I'm sure glad I got the opportunity to explore my full human potential in that career!"


Yeah, all they moan about is how they could feed their family. It sounds like those complaining people who were screwing in the backlights in Fords. We realy made them happy by replacing them by robots.

Re:Long overdue (1)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617953)

Yeah, all they moan about is how they could feed their family

Bullshit. They also moan about how their bodies are used up in half the time yours and mine are. They complain about terrible working conditions, terrible health, and short lifespan. Just because some people survive off a horrible job doesn't mean it should continue to exist.

Re:Long overdue (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617819)

Unions were developed when they found that machines could replace 90% of workers in factories.

The ancient debate over whether the un-educated masses need busy-work continues.

Each time technology replaces a workforce there is a massive recession, prices need to adjust for the lower wages being paid (overall)...

I'm a fan of it but it's tough for a while.

Re:Long overdue (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617967)

No, unions were developed when owners were abusing their workers. Automation, leading to loss of jobs only really became an issue in the last 30 years. And unions have been around MUCH longer than that.

well we already (5, Funny)

slurry47 (27097) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617491)

We already have fruit f*cker robots, why not fruit pluckers too.

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/search?keyword=f ruit+fucker [penny-arcade.com]

Re:well we already (1)

Whitemage12380 (979267) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617525)

Mod parent up for being the fastest to the joke that needed to be stated

Re:well we already (1)

Puff of Logic (895805) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617809)

Mod parent up for being the fastest to the joke that needed to be stated
The terrifying thing is that when I read the headline, I initially read it as "fruit fucker" instead of "fruit picker". Those bastards at PA have a lot to answer for!

This changes the immigration debate! (5, Insightful)

Engineer-Poet (795260) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617499)

The ag lobby has been claiming that we need "guest workers" (or illegals, or others) to pick these crops.

This is not unlike the H1B scandal. If you pay enough, you'll find people to do almost any job. The "need" isn't for workers per se, but people who will work a brief job for roughly minimum wage and then move on as a rootless nomad.

We should view this as cruel. We shouldn't maintain an underclass which picks fruit or maintains gardens. Machines can do this work without becoming tired, bored, getting disabling injuries, suffering reactions to ag chemicals, or any of the other hazards of human labor in orchards and fields. Machines can be built as needed and scrapped when they become unusable or obsolete.

If a machine is stored in a leaky barn, it's the farmer's problem. It's not cruel to ask a machine to work in high temperatures or without toilet breaks. A machine doesn't need compensation if drought or frost or fungus ruins the crop and there's nothing for it to do one year.

The taxpayer ought to have a say too. A machine isn't going to bring in a family which immediately qualifies for food stamps and Medicaid. A machine isn't going to overwhelm schools with ESL students. A machine isn't going to add to traffic congestion or law-enforcement expenses.

People who build and maintain machines have pretty good lives. People who do the sort of jobs replaced by machines often don't. Designing and debugging and improving machines means paychecks for geeks like us.

Instead of asking anyone to do jobs we won't do ourselves, or pay enough to attract folks like us, let's make machines to do them. Anything less is hypocritical.

This changes nothing. (3, Insightful)

NDPTAL85 (260093) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617521)

1. Do you think the migrant workers are going to be hapy to be out of jobs?

2. What will you say when automation renders YOUR occupation redundant?

You sure? (1)

Engineer-Poet (795260) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617547)

1. I think they'll be happy to be settled somewhere. I and many others would prefer that the illegal immigrants do this in their home countries.

2. When automation can create and execute new concepts, humanity itself will have created its successor. Think of it as evolution in action.

Re:You sure? (3, Insightful)

Duhavid (677874) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617701)

I dont think they come here to pick fruit per se,
they come here because economic conditions are better,
and there are jobs that pay more. So, if the
ag jobs go away, I would not expect immigration
to stop or reverse. It might find a new equilibrium,
and slow a bit.

"Think of it as evolution in action". A reader of
"Oath of Fealty", perhaps?

Re:This changes nothing. (2, Insightful)

Billly Gates (198444) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617651)

1.) Do you think former IT workers who lost their jobs to India or had their wages slash are going to be happy out of jobs?

2.) Automation overseas is making our jobs obsolete.

Yet no one cares so why should I care about them?

Not to sound cruel but I am competing with these people now for minimum wage jobs and these farm workers pay them for less for minium wage and I can not even work the fields myself as an American.

Basically they can complain all they want but no one will care and I will be angry if they do. As its viewed Indians are good but during the illegal immigration debate somehow these poor illegal immigrants need work and the mean old Americans wont let them and both parties need to act as one to save them... cry me a river.

Re:This changes nothing. (2, Insightful)

houghi (78078) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617851)

It is YOUR fault you do not want to work for the same wage as illegal immigrants do. Do not blame somebody else for taking your job. Blame yourself.

Re:This changes nothing. (1)

DrEldarion (114072) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617875)

Okay, so it's the immigrants' fault that they're not good enough to not get replaced by robots, then, right?

Re:This changes nothing. (1)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617881)

It is YOUR fault you do not want to work for the same wage as illegal immigrants do.
The same people who are supporting illegal immigration are the same ones who make it illegal for US citizens to actually work for the same wages as the illegals.

Re:This changes nothing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617683)

1. It doesn't matter how happy the migrant workers are, because they aren't in charge.

2. By the time computers can program themselves well enough to render programmers obsolete, technology will have transformed human existence into a utopia of limitless possibilities. I can only hope it happens within my lifetime.

Re:This changes nothing. (1)

NeMon'ess (160583) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617765)

I'll join the campaign for robots to do as much work as possible while the government gives me a stipend to become an artist.

Re:This changes the immigration debate! (2, Insightful)

Smight (1099639) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617603)

I find it interesting that the same people who wail against sweatshops in Asia and constantly want to raise the minimum wage are the same people that want to allow a slave class with no benefits forced to work long hours for less than minimum wage.

From bad to worse. (2, Insightful)

xC0000005 (715810) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617691)

The only reason why people do jobs like this is that it is better than the alternative. If we eliminate the class of jobs (which I agree we should do) then the net effect to migrants is bad. The net effect to those that they are supporting is disasterous to the population being supported by said industry. Even if the industry is horrible the alternative may be worse. So if we do this automation, do we simply eliminate the class and let the chaos fall where it may? Note that a similar thing happened in NOLA - there were large manual labor industries that were displaced (and probably won't return). The elimination of this class of "barely survival" jobs has yielded a set of people without the skills to survive in any facet. Retraining (at least according to the social worker I discussed it with) is not feasible, as most have somewhere between a third and a sixth grade education. Many of them are second/third/nth generation of low grade manual laborers. Like it or lump it the cost of automation goes far beyond the price of machines. It's retraining costs for citizens, it's economic aid to countries who are affected by the elimination of a cash inflow (or deciding to turn our backs on them - quite possibly the right thing to do). It's paying the social costs of a higher crime rate when people who can't do something else realize they must still eat.

Re:From bad to worse. (1)

feepness (543479) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617751)

I agree! Quick! Burn the looms! [wikipedia.org]

Re:From bad to worse. (2, Insightful)

xC0000005 (715810) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617807)

Can't tell if this is a troll post or not. I'll bite. I'm not sure where my post said I agree with the luddite type position. In fact, I stated that I believe we should automate these jobs (and other menial type jobs). We should plan for the impact of doing so. If that impact is to our citizens, then let's have a plan for how to get them ready to contribute in some way that doesn't involve illegal activities. If it doesn't involve our citizens it isn't directly our problem, but might be in our best interests to adress anyway.

Re:From bad to worse. (3, Interesting)

javaman235 (461502) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617847)

To be frank, though I agree I think you're also missing the worst part of this whole idea; the fact that we are headed for an energy crunch. The absolute last thing we need to be doing now is having our food supply more reliant than it already is on cheap energy.

Re:From bad to worse. (3, Insightful)

xC0000005 (715810) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617877)

We're already dependent on cheap energy for our food supply - it is just that instead of coming in power lines it's currently in tortilla shaped fuel cells.

Re:This changes the immigration debate! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19618033)

Of course you are right in all you say, but I can't wait to see what some robotics students have to say about it.

If it were that simple after all, we could have done it already. We've had various automated devices to aid harvesting since the founding of the industrial era. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Different kinds of produce have to be plucked, cut, dug up, unsheathed, or even shelled. Some of them are only identifiable as ripe by texture or smell. And so on.

Nature is messy and chaotic that way, and we're only getting robots up to handle some tasks gradually in the past few years.

But which ethnicity... (1)

sethawoolley (1005201) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617505)

Which ethnicity of indentured servants will be used to outsource repairing the robots to provide the food for all the Caucasian liberal arts grads?!?

Re:But which ethnicity... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617715)

Huh?

Cheaper than wage slavery? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617569)

This is why the "guest worker" (wage slavery) program being argued in the immigration bill needs to die. Slavery kills technological innovation- see Greek history, Roman history, and the American civil war for reference.

Wrong Problem (4, Interesting)

Joebert (946227) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617575)

It amazes me that Horticulturists can come up with thousands of varieties of flowers, fruits, & vegetables, Engineers can come up with robots that circle a tree numerous times to clean it of any fruit, but the two can't work together to make a tree that's easier to harvest from.

Maybe they will now.

Re:Wrong Problem (1)

rossifer (581396) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617649)

Learn about pecan harvesting. When it's a good investment, the effort will be made.

Regards,
Ross

Re:Wrong Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617801)

Ummm... Why do you think the tomatoes at the store look the way they do and taste like wet squishy cardboard?

Re:Wrong Problem (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617829)

Ummm... Why do you think the tomatoes at the store look the way they do and taste like wet squishy cardboard?

They found one of the 5 million ways not to mass produce tomatoes ?

It's been done, with tree shakers (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617925)

"Tree shakers" [aol.com] have been used since the 1960s. A big net in two section is clamped around the tree, a big arm reaches out and grabs the tree trunk, and a vibrator shakes the tree while the fruit falls off. Some early versions damaged trees, but that was fixed. (Linear shaking good, orbital shaking bad.)

Tomato harvesting was partly mechanized back in the 1960s. A tougher tomato plus appropriate machinery did the job. This was controversial at the time. Today, it's established technology. Check out the Pik-Rite 190 Tomato Harvester. [pikrite.com] 30 tons of tomatoes an hour. And that's the small model. This still doesn't work all that well for the softer varieties of tomatoes intended for sale whole, but Roma and cherry tomatoes are routinely picked by machine now.

Picking machines are getting smarter. The newer ones have cameras, computers, and air jets [odenberg.com] to sort produce by size and color.

Luddism (2, Insightful)

Prysorra (1040518) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617581)

Expect massive Luddite revolts. I'm serious. You have no idea how many MILLIONS of Mexican migrant workers there are.

This wont be pretty. Perhaps we should ask England is advice concerning textile machines?

Re:Luddism (1)

king-manic (409855) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617749)

Expect massive Luddite revolts. I'm serious. You have no idea how many MILLIONS of Mexican migrant workers there are.

This wont be pretty. Perhaps we should ask England is advice concerning textile machines?


Yeah that strategy worked famously for the Luddites? They sure stopped the industrial revolutions, shows them smarmy technoolooogits.

Re:Luddism (1)

Verte (1053342) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617893)

No doubt they will get some machines too, and now, instead of working their orchards, there will be extra long siestas!

Re:Luddism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617975)

"Perhaps we should ask England is advice concerning textile machines?"

I agree! England is advice!

Though let's not exclude Russia... Russia is advice too!it's And Guam! Guam is much advice! Holy shit!

About time... (3, Insightful)

c.r.o.c.o (123083) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617615)

Developing technology is extremely expensive. And while there is no pressure to change, usually driven by shortages in supply (whether labour or raw materials), the status quo is maintained.

It took more than one gas crisis for the American car manufacturers to design fuel efficient engines. Because while gas was cheap, there were no incentives to invest in technology. And while labour was (and still is) cheap, robotics cannot compete. I am sure that the technology for those robots has been available for at least a decade, but it wasn't cost effective in comparison to migrant workers.

But this is the way our society SHOULD have developed. So many manufacturing processes could be automated, if not for the initial investment.

Comrades!! (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617695)

In Soviet Russia, fruit picks you!!

Government Funding (2, Funny)

nick_davison (217681) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617719)

a fruit-harvesting robot being developed in California.
Government funding for these kinds of projects always tends to be easier to come by in California. Of course, it may have something to do with agreeing to add code to help the governor track down Sarah Conner.

Finally some progress (2, Interesting)

NeMon'ess (160583) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617753)

In theory we could have a civilization where people only work if they want to. Isaac Asimov and Roger MacBride Allen explored one possible society in the Caliban [amazon.com] trilogy.

We could have robots making our fast food, doing the gardening, mining metal, making robots, maintaining robots.

Jobs Americans won't do? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617763)

If an American won't pick oranges, what makes you think an American will want to make a robot that picks oranges? Maybe Mexico will make the robots and send them across the border so we don't have to make robots!

features? (1)

varkman (818678) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617773)

do these robots also scare the elderly and more conservative citizens with their foreign language and culture? Because i won't have any part of it when old people are 'just fine' with it.

Seemed perfect for the moment. (1)

DarkHelmet (120004) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617833)

I would give these migrant workers something motivational to say, but then I remembered this [despair.com]

(Yes, I'm a bastard)

Robot farmers (1)

spooje (582773) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617835)

Oh, great so what are we going to do when all of the illegal Transformers from Cybertron come over the boarder looking for farm work? This is just swapping one illegal for another.

What to do... (3, Interesting)

Statecraftsman (718862) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617917)

Not to take this story for more than what it is but this gives me an opportunity to share a vision of the future that has made me think quite hard. What if robots could do every menial and every physical job that needed doing? Imagine robots as dexterous and with visual recognition as good as your average skilled craftsman.

Would each person own a robot and collect a check from home or would the more likely scenario be that a few large companies would run huge armies of these robots? How might all those people who never heard of 'knowledge work' make a living? I'm thinking that the current scheme for distribution of wealth based on labor might not work in that scenario. Finally, I wonder what system, short of some socialist or communist nightmare, would.

I'm interested to hear what people think. Discussion or not, we'll only find out when it happens so bring those cotton-pickin' robots on!

DEAD on the MONEY (2, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617941)

The problem is that America is letting illegals come here to pick. Instead, had reagan not done his infamous forgivness, then we would have been forced to deal with this. All in all, we would already be highly mechaniczed. What is needed is to automate the low end jobs of agriculture, construction, manufactuering and low-end service jobs. These robots will not only be useful here, but also in any attempt to move off planet. Once we go to either the moon or mars we will need HEAVY automation to survive. And for America, and the west such as Japan and Europe, we need it due to our greying population. That is going to haunt us soon.

Their will be an outcry.... (3, Insightful)

rahvin112 (446269) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617945)

There will be the typical outcry that it's being proposed to either stop Mexicans from migrating, deprive Latinos work and money (vast chunks of central America and Mexico are now completely dependent on migrant labor money that is sent home) And there will of course be comments from what is typical of ignorant people that call themselves liberal (and aren't).

The fact is immigration reform that removes illegal migrants and eliminates even agricultural migrant's will be good for America in every way. The US economy has moved to a very strong dependence on what can only be called slave labor. Illegal migrants are frequently put in job's that pay less than US minimum wage standards and don't meet US minimum safety standards. There can be no argument that the continual immigration of people to the US helps the American economy, even illegal migration helps, the question is does it help more than controlled immigration does. But the fact is, how illegal workers are treated in this country is akin to the sharecrop system of virtual slavery that developed in the south after the civil war. It's also a fact that eliminating the cheap slave labor will force technological solutions that in the end will generate a significant number of high paying tech jobs.

As citizens we have to decide if we believe in the values we enshrine. If the wholesale exploitation of people to keep fruit and veggy prices low fits with our values. Sure, the migrants will tell you that they love living in America and that they do the hard work so their children have a chance that they wouldn't have in their home countries. Again, we have to ask ourselves, wouldn't it be better to allow REAL immigration instead of speaking out about illegal migration while we turn a blind eye to the illegal migration (US policy for the last 20 years).

How many people do you know that have turned in the local small businesses that are employing illegal migrants and in the process pricing out everyone else that is playing by the rules ?(Construction is by far the worst for this)? Illegal migration artificially deflates labor prices, it's the reason the republican's have used to keep the minimum wage from changing and it's also the reason that some jobs have such low labor rates that no one but illegal migrants can afford the job, thereby providing an excuse to right wing policy makers that the migrants are only taking jobs that American's won't. Without illegal migrants in the equation labor rates would be forced by supply and demand to provide a real living wage.

Re:Their will be an outcry.... (1, Informative)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 6 years ago | (#19618001)

I'm glad somebody mentioned Republicans . . .

Because I can guarantee you, every single Republican who voted for that Amnesty bill committed Political Suicide. Their approval ratings (from Republican voters) have plummeted faster then a greased up slip-n-slide.

Here's some nice tidbits:

Just 14% of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress. This 14% Congressional confidence rating is the all-time low for this measure, which Gallup initiated in 1973. The previous low point for Congress was 18% at several points in the period of time 1991 to 1994. By way of contrast, 69% of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military, which tops the list.


And the kicker:

The Zogby Interactive poll of 8,300 adults nationwide finds just 3% of Americans viewing Congress's handling of the immigration issue in favorable terms, while 9% say the same of the President-even as respondents in the survey rated it the second most important issue facing the country, after the war in Iraq.


Yes . . Three Percent, out of everybody in America, there's only THREE percent that want that Shamnesty Bill. I think this is a topic that most Republicans and Democrats can agree on.

Jumping the gun (2, Insightful)

cowtamer (311087) | more than 6 years ago | (#19617949)

Picking a fruit without damaging the fruit or the tree seems like a pretty complicated task from a robotics standpoint. I'm sure Honda or a couple of CMU grad students could demo something that can pick an orange from a tree--but picking a million oranges from thousands of trees in a real orchard is a different type of task entirely.

Not saying it won't happen, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Until then, this kind of looks like an R&D firm "picking the low hanging fruits" of funding from the immigration debate...

Re:Jumping the gun (2, Informative)

brjndr (313083) | more than 6 years ago | (#19618061)

Grapes were always hand picked, and now they use mechanical harvesters. If the same economics can be applied to oranges, it won't take long for mechanical harvesters to become popular.

This [ucdavis.edu] sums it up:

"Mechanical harvesting is also cheaper, especially as yields increase: most estimates say that hand harvesting costs $125 to $150 a ton, while machine harvesting costs $65 to $85 a ton. Four hand harvesters can pick about one acre of grapes a day; a mechanical harvester, which uses a crew of five to harvest around the clock, can harvest 10 to 20 acres a day."

immigration vs. tech (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19617979)

Immigration issues are nothing new. I think California's first immigrant labor crisis (post Mexican era) was in the 1950's. New York has had issues as well ("West Side Story"). I met a prof circa 1994 who claimed to have worked on a fruit picking machine. Apparently oranges are somewhat difficult...the picker needs to have a "feel" for the orange as the wrist is used to twist and pull the fruit. You don't want a stem left and you don't want a chunk of the protective rind to be pulled free. It took awhile to make the machine...when the machine was demo'd, no one was too interested. It was like paraphrasing Mao...why use technology when you have a comparatively free workforce clamoring for a job, any job? Point being this controversy is ongoing from decades, if not centuries past. Hopefully the robos are getting cheaper. They weren't in the 1980's.

$0.02 says that it melts (1)

Titoxd (1116095) | more than 6 years ago | (#19618011)

I wonder in which environment this is going to be deployed. If the vast majority of electronics say in TFM that they should not be "operated in temperatures exceeding 104 F (40 C)," or a similar number, then I just wonder how they are going to survive in the Imperial Valley region, which is essentially a part of the Mohave desert. The other day, it reached 115 F in the shade, and if you put these machines in direct sunlight, they would require cooling systems that would make them prohibitibly expensive. It will probably remain cheaper to keep hiring the dude that crossed the border 200 feet from my home in the Mexican side of the fence...


---
~~~~

Why does America need farms? (0, Flamebait)

ghoul (157158) | more than 6 years ago | (#19618031)

America is a rich country with a free and good education system so every non retarded person is qualified for skilled labor. Farming is inherently low value added unskilled labor best suited to developing nations. Why does America even have farms? The land would be better used as nature reserves , recreational parks and new subdivisions for people to live in so that they wouldnt need to live as crowded as in New York and San Francisco. Food can be imported much cheaper and our taxes could be reduced a lot as the government wouldnt have to subsidize farming or research into farming machines. This is just another example of large farming lobbies using their lobbying power to make the rest of the population pay for an outmoded way of life. And to anybody who crys wolf about food security I say get serious - do you really think any third world country will try to hold back food from a country with the strongest military in the world as well as one which controls the world economy through its control of the dollar?

I'm a bit surprised (2, Insightful)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 6 years ago | (#19618037)

I have often stated that agricultural technology stagnates as long as there is cheap labor to do the work. When you can have some guy from Mexico come in, and pay him under the table illegally at wages well below state and federal minimums, there is no incentive to invest in technology.

But when you wish to produce more crops with lower labor costs, in a world with rising labor costs, you end up having to invest in technology to take on the role of human beings. This is the wonder of agriculture in the industrialized world. Even something as simple as a combine harvester has had a dramatic impact on our society. It is inventions like that that enabled an industrial revolution to occur. As you no longer need as many people on the farm, that provides more people to work in industry and dramatically increases the number of people who become professional workers or skilled tradesmen.

A poor third-world nation suffers greatly because it cannot scale its agriculture the same way as the industrialized nations. Everyone is working their tail off trying to do subsistence farming. they have no time to work at a trade that adds to their nations GDP/GNP. If a poor nation could increase agricultural output while decreasing the labor involved, you can reassign those people to producing things. the don't even have to be costly goods, it could be sewing clothing and footballs. But it's hard to industrialize when people are starving(a leading cause of disease in the third world) or working constantly to produce food (an insufficient amount of food). ... As for Mexico, they have all the education, tools and resources necessary to be a prosperous nation. They don't need to immigrate to the US and work for slave wages to feed their children. The real obstacles are the corrupt government and corrupt businesses that exploit the people. You leave Mexico because you're being exploited to work in the US where you are also exploited, but just to a lesser degree. That's a bogus argument for ignoring illegal immigration.

You should either treat people as equals and protect them from exploitation, or you do not let them in. And guess who the primary victims of Latino gangs are? new illegal immigrants. Without control of the borders the ex-cons and thugs spill into the country and take over the Hispanic ghettos, victimizing the illegal immigrants. I don't know about you, but I think knowing who comes into your country and not letting in people without proper document is the opposite of racist/bigot, I think it's the compassionate choice.

I'm sure tehy'll be glad (1)

anno1602 (320047) | more than 6 years ago | (#19618051)

troops of these machines could perform the tedious and labor-intensive task of fruit picking that currently employs thousands of migrant workers each season

I'm sure the migrant workeers are glad they won't have to do that tedious and labor-intensive task any more.

It will never work (5, Funny)

niceone (992278) | more than 6 years ago | (#19618055)

It will never work - those robots are huge, they will never make it across the border undetected.
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