$50,000 strawberry-picking robot to go on sale in Japan

This bot uses an imaging system to gauge when berries are ripe. It's perfect for making very expensive jam.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
Strawberry robot
Berry nice: The robot can harvest strawberries every 8 seconds and works while farmers sleep. Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

What could be more blissful than lying back on your picnic blanket while a robot picks perfectly ripe strawberries for you?

Yes, we all share this arcadian dream. Sadly, it comes with a $50,000 price tag.

That's roughly how much a new strawberry-picking robot will cost when it goes on sale in Japan early next year, so start saving now.

Developed in part by automation firm Shibuya Seiki, the bot was shown off in Tokyo this week at the Auto-ID & Communication Expo trade show.

The machine moves on rails in a greenhouse. It has a 3D stereo camera system to image the berries and judge which ones are ripe according to color.

When it finds one, a robotic arm reaches out and snips its stem. Into the basket it goes. It can harvest a berry every 8 seconds.

"This robot would harvest two-thirds of the strawberries during the night when growers are sleeping," Shibuya Seiki's Mitsutaka Kurita told AFP.

"The farmer can then pick the rest of the strawberries that the robot couldn't get at."

While a small basket of strawberries can fetch about $5 in Japan, harvesting them takes a lot more work than other produce such as rice, tomatoes, or cucumbers. But the machine could eventually pay for itself.

The berry-bot is the commercial version of a robot developed by Japan's National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) that we saw three years ago.

Back then, it took 9 seconds to pick a berry, so it's slightly faster now. In another 10 years, it'll be baking strawberry shortcakes in no time flat.

Check out the NARO vid of the bot in action below.