This Fruit-Picking Robot Could Help End Illegal Immigration

roughly 10% of America's illegal immigrants work in America's agricultural sector, usually picking fruits and nuts. automation could put an end for demand for illegal labor

Robotic Automation Could Help American Orchards Compete Without Migrant Labor

Proponents of illegal immigration often say we need low-skilled migrants to harvest our crops—everything from Californian almonds to Washingtonian apples depends upon them.

Without illegals, they say, American agriculture would cease to exist.  It simply wouldn’t be competitive in a global market—we need their cheap labor.

Of course, none of that’s true.

Barely 10% of America’s illegal immigrants work in agriculture, and those who do mostly work in California’s fruit and nut orchards, where roughly 1 in 6 workers are undocumented.  The rest of the country gets by just fine.

But why is that?

It’s because harvesting corn or wheat is easily mechanized: threshing machines don’t have to be delicate with the product, and the fields ripen uniformly.

Picking fruit, on the other hand, is a precise, labor-intensive process.  Workers must judge the fruit’s ripeness, and pick it without damaging the tree, or other fruits.

Therefore, if we want cheaper fruit, we have little choice other than to acquire cheaper labor.

It’s this dilemma that drives many people to accept illegal immigration—even if it hurts the economy in the long run.

Enter the robots.

Abundant Robotics Hopes To Automate America’s Fruit & Nut Orchards

That’s where Abundant Robotics, a California-based company, comes in.

They’ve created an automated apple-picking machine that will dramatically reduce the need for human labor on orchards—ideally, it will do for fruit-picking what tractors did for wheat harvesting.

Abundant Robotics’ CEO, Dan Steere, said that mechanizing fruit harvesting is simply an “extension of several hundreds of years of technology innovation in agriculture.”

Designing the machine, which currently specializes in picking apples using a vacuum arm, was tricky.

Why?  According to Dan Swafford, an agricultural technologist from Virginia Tech:

The robot’s got to be able to identify an apple, and then after that, tell if it is ripe… it takes a lot of specialized sensors and cameras to do that, and then they have to be able to pick the fruit without damaging it.

Until recently, this was beyond the scope of machinery.  But Abundant Robotics is changing all that.

With any luck, machinery like this will help stem demand for migrant labor, which will be both more humane, and economical.

And the best part?  Machines won’t cost American taxpayers a dime (or in California’s case, $30 billion a year).

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