An effort led by Western Growers (WG) looks to speed up the development and implementation of harvest automation technology. The Global Harvest Automation Initiative (GHAI) has set a goal of automating at least half of the harvest process within 10 years. The ambitious initiative has been developed out of necessity in addressing consistent labor issues. WG Vice President of Innovation Walt Duflock explained that there are two halves to the overall project.
“How do we help the innovators work faster? We give them a technology platform that’s standard for everybody and we help a group of them get into field trials and publish case studies to show how they’re doing. On the grower side, the second half of this is, how do we report back to them?” said Duflock. “Telling the growers ‘here’s what we did’ and updating it every year, and ‘here’s who’s doing the work’ and that will get updated every year as well.”
Other individual efforts to develop viable harvest automation technology have yielded very few results. GHAI takes a collaborative approach to the issue. Using a standardized technology stack to work off of and integrating existing tractor, sensor, and robotic equipment should help give innovators a leg up. The two biggest hurdles that can bottleneck development are artificial intelligence advancement and the picking implement that would be used for harvest.
“That’s the key IP area and our platform enables them to focus more time on that,” noted Duflock. “We’re not sure how much development time it’s going to save them, but we believe it’s quarters to years with the platform.”
The first step in the initiative will be the development of the standardized platform. Led by a full-time project manager, a team of subject matter experts, industry members, and agtech professionals are working collectively to get that established. Duflock explained they have “a quarter of road to build” in the development of the tech stack. Once completed, the initiative will begin moving into the next phase. “In July we’ll be out with that tech stack and we’ll get the startups set to work on getting that integrated into their product roadmap and we’ll be able to see how much time we can save them,” said Duflock.