Due to the increasing demand in the market, the adoption of mechanical and robotic systems in AgriTech has evolved. Farmers have realized the added value of new technologies in other fields that would contribute to their own needs and requirements. They have started to look for solutions to the pressing problems of scarce laborers and diminishing profits due to rising labor and other costs relating to farming.
As such demand became apparent, several startups entered the field, trying to develop the solutions to these problems. This also captured the attention of venture capital firms who started to inject the necessary funding to support such new developments, which in turn sparked yet additional companies to look for specific field where mechanical/robotic/software solutions would ease off these problems.
FFRobotics is a startup that provides a cost-effective solution to ever-increasing challenges of finding and retaining labor, rising labor costs, and potential damage to hand-picked fruit, with a significant gain to growers in added productivity and efficiency.
Making Fruit Harvesting Effortless
The majority of harvests, such as wheat, corn, green beans, tomatoes, and many other crops have been mechanized for decades. However, for the fragile produce of tree fruits for fresh consumption (i.e., without processing), like apple, citrus, peach, pear, as well as table grapes, where the crop’s quality and appearance is especially important, have remained stubbornly resistant partly because of the non-availability of technology.
In 2016, over 7 million tons of fresh apples were picked off trees all around the USA alone. 100% of these fruits were picked manually, mostly by seasonal laborers. These laborers become more and more scarce, as old pickers retire, the young ones do not want to work in agriculture, and laborers from foreign countries are limited in number or entirely forbidden from entry, and in any event require extensive training, with increasing lodging, food and transportation costs.
FFRobotics Fresh fruit Harvesting solution has a three-fingered grip that can grab fruit and twist or clip it from a branch, and has at least twelve robotic arms, which means, according to the company, it will be able to pick up to 10,000 apples a day.
The company envisions that the machine could pick up to 90 percent of the crop with humans picking the remainder.
The Visionary Leaders
Gad Kober, Co-Founder & VP/Business Development is a highly-experienced senior-level management leader in industry and services. He is the former VP/Director-General at the Weizmann Institute of Science; Director of Innovation, CP LLC, UK; and Co-Founder and CEO of several startups in medical instrumentation.
Avi Kahani, the CEO and Co-Founder of FFRobotics, is a visionary with years of experience in Sales, Marketing, and team leadership. He has also worked as the VP at Mobixelle Networks previously.
Mr. Kahani was the manager of a large apple orchard many years ago. It was then that the idea occurred to him that mechanical picking of fruit will resolve three pressing issues: Picking labor availability, rising labor costs and quality of the fruit picked.
After a few years, equipped with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and global experience coupled with technological advancements, he decided to leave his position of VP sales and marketing at large corporations and concentrate on developing a robotic fruit harvester. Avi was joined by Yoav Koster and Gad Kober to enhance the venture.
Yoav Koster, the CTO of FFRobotics is a well-known, experienced, and highly-motivated designer of successful robotic systems in civil (which includes the agricultural as well) purposes. He worked as a chief engineer at Siemens in Israel and was the Founder and Owner of Eship-4you.
Sustaining through Obstacles
According to Gad Kober, VP of Business Development, growing a clientele is not an easy task given the relatively conservative approach of farmers towards new technologies. In the absence of a solid reference point in the form of an end-to-end working solution, this became the biggest obstacle for the founders. Having demonstrated the viability of the Robotic Solution in several countries – this obstacle has been met by a specially tailored program enabling early-adoptors to embrace the company’s solution for robotic fruit harvesting.
Harnessing the Disruptive Technologies
“FFRobotics’s technology has been and continues to be developed with on-line collaboration with leading tree-fruit growers in the USA, Europe, and Israel, combining attention to the growers’ needs, experience, know-how and advice, with the potential of applying current and newly developed Vision, AI, Algorithmics and Robotic software and hardware, leading to a product which will address the growers’ needs very precisely”, reflects Avi, the CEO on the adoption and fruitfulness of new technologies.
Awards and Accolades
FFRobotics has been recognized as a most promising developer of robotic fruit harvesting solutions by bi- and multi-national R&D funds, and received, twice, an Honorary Medal from the EU Horizon 2020 Program.