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Can a robot pick a strawberry better, faster, and cheaper than a human? (washingtonpost.com)
147 points by jamessun 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 161 comments



When I was growing up our family had a fairly sizeable strawberry patch. My Dad enjoyed gardening, and for a few years my parents canned the produce we produced. Strawberry preserves were a treat I didn't realize until I was an adult.

The strawberry patched served dual purpose. Kids too rowdy? Go weed the strawberries. Strawberry picking can be a little tricky. Strawberries like to grow all over the plant, both in plain sight on the periphery, and nestled in among the leaves by the stems. Strawberry plants grow "runners" and spread out of their own accord making walking among them a challenge of not stepping on nascent runners.

Strawberries aren't always right for eating though. Sometimes a turtle would take a bite, sometimes it would be to moist and rot on the stem. Sometimes they'd become a projectile to stain a siblings face or clothes.

Today my father is 81 and still tending his strawberries. He gets excercise and keeps busy, and we bring them home to eat during the growing months. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot depending on the year.


Your story reminds me of the 'pick your own' fashion of the 1980's in the UK. For small children it was great fun with more eaten or thrown at siblings and friends than put in the basket to be paid for.

This was a special time in that you couldn't just buy strawberries year round from the convenience store in single use plastic packaging, strawberries had bona-fide treat-luxury value. The excitement level of strawberries was definitely up there with chocolate Easter Eggs.

The trip to the field with the pick your own sign was a great day out but you had to have a functional family that did not work silly hours and had a lead-belching automobile. This was the high point of 1980's consumerism and it worked great for the farmer as the customers rather than hired-hand immigrants did the work of picking the strawberries. They just had to have some small child by the gate with some scales - a great cash only business.

I have noticed fewer pick-your-own signs in recent times and I wonder why. In the 1980's the shops were not open on a Sunday but the pick your own fields were. Also families are not quite the same and neither are communities, society has become more atomised. Screens have also taken over so kids today have better things to do on their hand-rectangles to be interested in spending a glorious summer day having fun with strawberries.

Anyway, returning to the original question - of course robots can do a better job of picking strawberries. We made it to the moon, right? It would be defeatist to think that we could not put our finest minds and billions of dollars to solving the problem of picking strawberries by robot. There are bigger fish to fry though.


We have something similar here in Minnesota during the Fall: pick your own apples. You and kids walk through the orchards with a basket, gathering as you go or sometimes there's a tractor towing a wagon that will take a dozen or so people at a time out, and pick them up after their baskets are full.

Of course, it's much better when it's your friend's apple trees and they're begging you to take a few bags home before they're indundated with rotting apples :-)


"Of course, it's much better when it's your friend's apple trees and they're begging you to take a few bags home before they're indundated with rotting apples :-) "

In Southern California it's Tangerines. Suddenly everybody has them for a few weeks.


For anyone near the San Francisco Peninsula, Webb Ranch opens their U-Pick berry patch during the summer. It's on Alpine Road just west of 280:

http://www.webbranchinc.com/farmers_upick_straw.htm

The page doesn't indicate when they will open for the season, but it tends to be early June.

A few years ago we went on the last day of the season and got some wonderful late season Navajo Blackberries.


I've been to a few pick your own farms in Staffordshire, but these have been secondary businesses to farm shops or petting zoos.

I think strawberry farms have got technology down to a point where having people (especially children) ambling around is invasive. I see a lot of polysterene covered tunnels in fields which I've seen strawberries grown in. As we rely more on technology, the more it distances us from the process.


"Strawberry preserves were a treat I didn't realize until I was an adult."

We didn't have much money when I was a kid so my parents grew pretty almost all vegetables we ate in our garden. We had a patch next to our house and a bigger outside town. Back then I hated helping them and I just took fresh fruit and vegetables as granted. Only as an adult with own household I realized how great this was.


> Strawberry preserves were a treat I didn't realize until I was an adult.

Huh? This doesn't seem to fit with the rest of your story. Despite plentiful strawberries and a canning operation in your house, you didn't have any strawberry preserves until adulthood? Did I misunderstand? Please explain.


I believe he's saying that he had fresh strawberry preserves readily available as a child; however as an adult that was not the case. He didn't come to realize how fortunate he was to have the strawberry preserves until adulthood.


There's a saying "you don't realize what you have until it's gone." People tend to take for granted the most precious things (and people) in their lives. When they lose them, they truly feel the pain of what they're now missing.


Maybe OP regarded them as too common when he was a kid, and only realized as an adult how much of a treat they were.


Strawberry preserves are so easy to make though. The benefit being you can add much less sugar than the store bought.

samnwa 31 days ago [flagged]

Wait, so are you saying that your 81 year old father is actually a humanoid AI?


One of the interesting (but little-discussed) aspects of the minimum wage debate is how it interacts with automation.

Historically, the cost of building a robot to do someone's job was in most cases effectively infinite (i.e. it could not be done no matter how much money you throw at the problem). Now, it seems like it's potentially in the $20-50/hour range for many industries, by which I mean not currently cost-competitive with existing labor, but getting close.

It would be a fairly significant unintended consequence if setting the national minimum wage to $15 were to actually eliminate entire job categories like fruit picker and burger flipper, due to pushing the minimum cost of labor above the cost of automating the role.

It's very interesting to watch developments like those described in the OP, since they will probably see sigmoid-like adoption; pretty much zero, until someone gets a model that's cost-competitive, and then I'd imagine quite wide adoption within a couple years. I don't think a minimum wage is going to solve the social unrest that this kind of technological change will bring.


I think you're absolutely right. I think the fight for living wages will likely be T-boned by the juggernaut of automation. That's why (to me) the conversation about universal basic income is far more constructive and durable than minimum wages.

I'm also not convinced the minimum wage debates are as helpful since so many workers don't benefit from it. We certainly need to continue the conversation and ensure workers are paid fairly, but you're right - the more labour costs, the less companies will employ them (to some extent). There is a very short-lived benefit to focusing on raising minimum wages, such that something longer-lasting needs to be considered immediately as well.

I think the sigmoid-like adoption will be incredibly pronounced and fast in some industries. I think about this a lot, and when friends justifiably argue and debate for higher minimum wages, I worry that they'll be totally blindsided by the reality that minimum wage is useless when you have no job.


I have an idea that seems (to me) to be somewhere between a higher minimum wage, and universal basic income:

Require employers to offer very high amounts of paid time off. Perhaps only applying to low paying jobs.

For example, if a minimum wage employee was guaranteed 6-months worth of paid time off, they could work two jobs and make twice as much money. And even though they would technically be working two jobs, they would not have to work more hours.

People with two jobs are less likely to lose all their income from being laid off, and would be willing to be more mobile in the market, because they already have two jobs and can compare them. It would increase competition between businesses to offer good work environments.

It would also have some of the benefits of universal basic income, because people would have a lot of time they could spend going to school, or starting a business, etc.

If minimum wage employees became accustom to a lot of time off that would also put pressure on other jobs to give more time off. As far as I understand the US is pretty stingy with time off compared to other developed nations?

It could also address one of the fears about universal basic income, which is that people would become do-nothing hermits. That couldn't fully happen if people still had to work some of the time.

It would essentially double the employee cost on business though. But so would doubling the minimum wage.


The problem with this scheme is that it is weirdly selective; only people who can get jobs can benefit. What about the mentally or physically disabled? What about felons, who often face a significantly smaller job market? What about people who are outed from a shrinking industry but are too "overqualified" to be hired at lower levels in other industries?


Perfect is the enemy of good. I think the parent comment uses their proposition as a good start on the way to eventually achieve universal basic income for everyone. From their post, the part about alleviating lazy hermit related worries when it comes universal income hinted at that, imo.


I think your understanding of why a minimum wage is important is inappropriately myopic.

All workers benefit from minimum wages, especially those who make more than minimum wage. First because it shifts labor costs up, which is good for those who rely on wages. Second, it narrows the range of expected financial resources, which increases the efficiency of service delivery and allows the creation of "nicer" places (i.e. it's easier to build good transit when everyone makes more). It also generates larger markets, pushes out bad actors and enables greater societal participation on the margins.

The minimum wage is vital to discussions around UBI because, of course, the minimum wage influences what jobs will be interesting under UBI.

In general, I think it's inaccurate to think about the minimum wage only in terms of how it benefits the people who get it. Its role as "pinning" the bottom of the economic curve is overall much more important. Whatever the form of our economy - the debate around what labor we consider exploitative and what kinds of labor we would like to incentivize will continue.


This is an interesting set of arguments, I hadn't considered the efficiency of service delivery before.

Do you have any way of estimating the magnitude of these effects? I don't on my side, unfortunately, but I'd love to see some more detailed analysis either way.

I could believe that the positive utility from the effects you describe is higher than the negative utility of some industries being automated away, but it seems equally plausible that it's the other way, too (indeed from my naive non-economist viewpoint it seems like those effects would be second-order effects to the job-destruction ones).

> the minimum wage influences what jobs will be interesting under UBI.

I think there's a pretty watertight argument for abolishing the minimum wage if you're in a UBI regime, right? I certainly haven't heard an argument against, but perhaps you have one. I would have thought that the UBI would provide the "pinning" effect that you refer to, and then we could simplify the wage regulation by dropping the minimum wage, to give people more options on what to work on.


I'm guessing you make more than minimum wage. Which incidentally is $18.29/hour here in Australia (about US$13.)


I do, but for a significant portion of my life I didn't. I'm also not saying we don't need better minimum wage - not at all. I think nearly everyone should be paid a better wage, and people should absolutely be protected from being paid less than a living wage.

I do think a substantial UBI combined with reasonable minimum wage would be a better goal than hair-splitting and squeezing as much as possible out of minimum wage. I'm also concerned that minimum wages are only useful per hour worked, or for employed people in general. It's not as widely beneficial as it should be.


> It would be a fairly significant unintended consequence if setting the national minimum wage to $15 were to actually eliminate entire job categories like fruit picker and burger flipper, due to pushing the minimum cost of labor above the cost of automating the role.

This is not an unintended consequence, IMO. An unintended consequence is typically something that is not foreseeable, but the conversion of jobs to automation after minimum wage increases is not unforeseeable. You'd learn about that in an entry-level economics course.


> An unintended consequence is typically something that is not foreseeable

I'm using the definition of "an unintended consequence is a consequence that was not intended". Whether it was foreseeable is a different matter.

Put another way, I believe that the intention of most people advocating a $15/h minimum wage is to increase the welfare of those currently earning sub-$15/h wages, not to eradicate their jobs. Therefore if job eradication is the consequence of the policy under discussion, then it is an unintended consequence for those advocates.


Not to derail the conversation too far, but there are actually cases where a minimum wage has been used as a tool to eliminate certain jobs. For example, a big sticking point of the new NAFTA deal was the requirement that exported cars be manufactured in a factory with a $16/hr wage floor, with goal of making exports from Mexico uncompetitive and move some of those manufacturing jobs to the US.

Obviously, I don't think that's the common policy goal though.


If cheaper automation drives down these wages far enough then it won't matter if the people have a job or not. $3 per hour would be similar to no job.


Here in California, most farm workers appear to earn above the minimum wage already, so you could nudge the minimum wage up a decent amount without having much impact on the industry.

I suspect full automation is the wrong way to think about the issue anyways. You don't need to completely automate things to reduce labor costs. There are a lot of ways to make a restaurant kitchen more labor efficient, some of which don't involve automation at all.


I would hope that even if there would be fewer people hired in some areas, there would be a number of higher wage positions created - automated robot herder/field mechanic or the like. The issue is that our current economic conventions don't have (or explictly create) allowances for people to individually or systematically shift to whole new professions within their lifetimes.

It's understandable, before the pace of change was slower, save for maybe a few transition times historically, and people could basically work in a field for their lives, maybe their children would pick up new lines of work. But change is much faster now - and we're sort of built for economic allowances to people for the slower pace.


This is pretty standard economic theory. We'd call automation "productivity gains". If tax rates are structured correctly, we expect productivity gains to be redistributed to workers - as a worker can produce more, their income rises. What we've seen in the past 30 years is that instead of productivity gains being shared with workers, they've been systematically redistributed upwards.

It's not a problem a machine can replace 10 workers. You'll still need someone to manufacture and maintain that machine, and those people will be paid more than the workers that were replaced. The other workers will go on to other jobs.

Per Dean Baker[0]:

> Replacing human labor with technology is a very old story. It’s called “productivity growth.” We’ve been seeing it pretty much as long as we have had a capitalist economy. In fact, this is what allows for sustained improvements in living standards. If we had not seen massive productivity growth in agriculture, then the bulk of the country would still be working on farms, otherwise we would be going hungry.

[0]:https://www.patreon.com/posts/robots-taking-24450257


> Replacing human labor with technology is a very old story. It’s called “productivity growth.”

This is true and indisputable in the trivial sense, in that it describes history accurately. However the problem I have with this sort of statement is that it implicitly assumes that the future will be the same as the past. In this case I believe there are reasonable arguments that the future might be different.

To expand upon that point, the position you've laid out says nothing about the rate of destruction of jobs. It seems plausible (though obviously not certain) that the next decade or two of automation could involve rates of obsolescence that have not been seen before in history.

If "productivity growth" happens on the timescale of a generation, then the next generation can learn the new skills, and there is manageable social impact. The historical examples I'm familiar with fall into this category (e.g. power loom adoption over 25-50 years in the first half of the 19th century). In this domain, the rate of job destruction is below the maximum rate of job creation, and so there is no net job destruction.

However if that effect happens in a shorter timeframe, then you could have a large segment of the population all trying to find new work at the same time. (e.g. a self-driving truck makes most long-distance freight drivers obsolete in 5 years, removing 1% of jobs from the economy without an immediate replacement; in the worst case, rinse and repeat for 10 other industries in the same period). In this domain, the rate of job creation hits a limit, and therefore there is net job destruction, until the rate of job destruction decreases and job creation can catch up.

Do you have a model for where this breakdown might occur?

> The other workers will go on to other jobs.

This is true _on a long enough time scale_, but economics is silent on the broader societal and political impact during the re-equilibration period following a discontinuity in employment like this.


Slightly off topic, but stories like this remind me of the Aeolipile[0] from Ancient Rome.

It was a simple steam engine invented in 250BC, but the Romans never applied it to anything because there was no economic impetus. No one in antiquity seriously questioned slavery, and there was no major industry or constructions that couldn't be accomplished by throwing bodies at the problem until it was finished.

In modern times, we done the same thing with a lot of industries, like agriculture. Fruit harvesting robots are totally feasible, but we have political and economic policies that make it easier to use migrant labor than it is to invest in innovation.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolipile


While you don't have to pay slaves, they were not free. They were expensive to buy and you had to provide food etc. (And they might rebel and kill you.) The Romans did use things like water mills, so they might as well have used steam engines if they had actually been practical.

I'm not sure the Romans ever realized the device could be used to perform work. It is really just a curiosity.


Aeoliphile is an open cycle engine and so inefficient that it's practically useless for doing work. It took the Europeans a lot of time to develop the skills necessary to build closed cycle steam engines efficient and powerful enough to do work.


I think that steam engines went hand in hand with the availability of coal. Even the production of steel (or iron) was hampered by the fact that there wasn't enough stuff to burn.

Afaik there was much less forestry in Europe until the advent of coal as the wood was burnt for heating, cooking and iron work.


Yes, this is a serious underappreciated problem. Before we had fossil fuels we were entirely dependent on inefficient biomass for comfort, survival and transport.

And the production of coal from all but the shallowest mines requires pumps. One of the first uses of steam engines was ... pumping out coal mines.


Certainly the 1712 Newcomen engine exploded the amount of available coal, because water could now be pumped from mines.


I've also heard (but not confirmed) that the skills used for forging cannons and guns were necessary for developing the pistons used in lots of early steam engines


I remember whale oil being an important source of fuel for some uses as well


For lighting, definitely. I'm not aware of it having ever been used for heating at any scale?


Doesn't change the fact that if the Romans thought that an engine would have been useful, they would probably have begun studying a way of making it more efficient.


I'd also argue that ancient physics based around static objects would've been an insufficient basis for developing a theory of thermodynamics, which is what was required to turn the steam engine into more than a curiosity for pumping water out of mines. Without Newton and Galileo developing a physics of motion there wouldn't have been a Carnot.


Carnot's work came almost 50 years after Watt's development of his steam engine. Of course valuable, but not strictly necessary. One could argue that thermodynamics developed out of necessity for more efficient engines but it's not a strict prerequisite.

As another example the brothers Montgolfier weren't aware that heated air could lift their balloon because it had less density than cold air. They still managed to get it work.


It's a wildly inefficient turbine; but better designs of turbines are very practical. Including a design Tesla originated that's remarkably similar, functionally, to the Aeoliphile. These too are not necessarily closed cycle. Getting the steam back saves a little energy 'cause the water you're boiling is hotter to start with, but that's a small saving compared to the energy cost to change the phase of water.

The biggest problem with the Aeoliphile was just that it was a poor implementation, a lousy first prototype. Or to put that same case conversely, the real drawback was that there was no sufficiently cheap source of energy (even peat) back then. So there was no obvious reason to mount the learning curve.


Businesses often claim there's a "labor shortage" and lobby for overseas workers without changing their practices, such as paying more or allowing longer training curves for hirees that are a close enough match but not an exact match.

They did this in agriculture and IT, and the lobbying usually worked. If denied the easy out, companies will change their employment practices and/or automate.


"Fruit harvesting robots are totally feasible, but we have political and economic policies that make it easier to use migrant labor than it is to invest in innovation."

While it's true the political and economic sentiment has been against farm automation, we haven't had the technology to make most farm automation tasks feasible until recently and it still has a long ways to go.


Yeah - but the argument is that we don't have the tech because there is no point investing in the research when you can get a load of cheap labour to do it the work instead.


Not to be confused with the Aiolipile, a very tasty garlic lake near Rome.

Quite surprising that a steam engine existed that early. I hope it doesn't take another 2000 years for robots to be used for these tasks.


>Quite surprising that a steam engine existed that early. I hope it doesn't take another 2000 years for robots to be used for these tasks.

Most likely, it will take at least that long. Remember, the reason it took 2000 years to get from Rome's simple steam engine to what we have now is because Rome collapsed and its technologies and civilization were lost for over 1000 years while Europe suffered through the Dark Ages and Medieval times. The same is going to happen to us.


The early practical steam engines of the 1600's were barely practical. It took experimenting and experience to make them practical for general manufacturing, not just niches. The same with semiconductors: it took decades of trial and error to make them more practical than vacuum tubes even though their "interesting properties" were known about in the 1800's. (Manufacturing them in consistent form proved daunting.)

If you knew in advanced they had the most promise, sure you could pump R&D into them. But without such foresight, one cannot tell how much promise they actually have. Compare to cold-fusion, flying cars, and hot-fusion reactors: always "just around the corner" but never arrive in a practical sense. Promising-looking ideas don't always actually deliver in the short/medium-term, and vice versa.

Unless they have value in intermediate form, they may not be a wise investment from the perspective of politicians/kings, who prefer results before they retire. Otherwise, they spend resources that don't get them re-elected or that don't give them an edge against enemies.

Eli Whitney's "interchangeable parts" claim was mostly hype when it first appeared. But the semi-interchangeable nature of his products was good enough to make them more useful than the prior approaches. Half-reshaping for fit is better than full re-shaping. It kept his process running long enough to reach full interchangeability through gradual trial and error.


While you're correct about everything you wrote here, you totally missed the point of my post. If Rome had somehow avoided total collapse, we probably would have developed our current level of civilization and technology 1000 years earlier, because there was almost no technology being developed from ~400 - 1500, certainly not on the scale that the Romans did things. People went from having real toilets with running water from aqueducts to crapping in a hole in the ground until after the Renaissance, and from making complex buildings out of concrete to just stacking up stones (at best).

My claim is that today's society is going to collapse as well, and the survivors' ancestors will be really lucky to get back to this level of development in 1-2000 years.


Scholars over the last few decades dispute this, saying that immense advances occurred during these "dark times", in mining related technology in particular during the middle ages. Also clockworks, and much more. The Romans were great implementers but not renowned for innovation. As with so much else, the truth probably lies inbetween.


Lens grinding and gear-work indeed were important advances during the so-called "dark ages". There were also agricultural and metallurgy improvements. Whether such would happen faster or slower under original Roman rule is hard to say.

The end of slavery and birth of proto-democracies in Europe is arguably what propelled the industrial revolution. People didn't have to tolerate their lowly lot in life as much. When human labor got more expensive, machines proved their mettle. That increased the rate of mechanical progress until it was self-sustaining.


The advances were many.

However, one can't date the beginning of the end of slavery even in England proper to any earlier than 1772. The advances that underpinned the Industrial Revolution were in place by that time, including the Newcomen steam engine - 1712. It's true that only ten percent at most of England's population were slaves in the Dark to Middle Ages but the rest were Villians/Villeins (serfs), tied to land.

It was actually the simultaneous agricultural revolution that made labor cheap because it made vegetables cheap. This revolution had little to do with machinery, with the exception of Tull's horse-drawn seed drill. (Admittedly, a big exception.)


I'm not aware of any kind of lens or gear technology being developed during the dark ages. Are you sure you aren't thinking of the Renaissance? The dark ages are called that because no one was educated and no one wrote anything down. There's very little recorded history during that time, which is where the name comes from.


Concave mirrors to correct poor eyesight were available in Ancient Rome, if you were rich enough (there's record of Nero using one at the forum, IIRC.) Button lenses (single small lenses) for embroidery, etc, perhaps as well. Literacy existed during the dark ages, largely in monasteries. Scotland esp, plus the Babylonian Empire (Late Roman Empire) persisted. Records were more scarce, but exist. Gears go back to ancient Greece, we now know. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism

"Dark Ages" is something of a misnomer by now, most historians would say, I believe. This source blames Petrarch for the calumny: https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/15/were-there-dark-ages/

Oman and Bury are good public domain sources on the dark ages. You can find some free books here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_13?url=search-alia...

I would usually recommend gutenberg.org, but their pickings seem to be slim, in this case.


Pointing to things in ancient Rome or Greece isn't helping your argument, because many of those things were lost in the dark ages. They had toilets in Rome. They didn't have toilets in the dark ages. They built concrete-domed buildings in ancient Rome. They didn't build anything like that in the dark ages, or for a very long time afterwards (not until modern times; concrete had to be re-invented).

Literacy existed in monasteries, yes, but that was pretty much the only place it existed then!! Ancient Romans, by contrast, were mostly literate in the general population.

Why are people so eager to whitewash the dark ages and the loss of literacy and technology that happened there with the fall of Rome? I really wonder if a lot of it is coming from the Catholic Church; they've tried pushing a narrative that the dark ages were really a great time because everyone in Europe was Catholic.


As cited above, https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/15/were-there-dark-ages/ answers all this far better than I can. Changing the subject to loss of previous knowledge is arguing by distraction.


James C Scott argues that if you got to choose, you might prefer a dark age, because people in so-called dark ages were better off, as they weren't being "managed" by leaders more intent on legibility for social control than the wellbeing of people.


The quality of life and length of life for people under Roman rule was significantly better than during the dark ages of serfdom. The Romans had working plumbing and specialization of labor; all that went away during the dark ages. They also had learning, and working legal system, written history, etc. The dark ages didn't; that's why it's called the "dark ages": no one bothered to write anything down because they were all uneducated and didn't keep records. It's really weird how modern people are now trying to whitewash the dark ages; I simply fail to see how it's an improvement to abandon education and specialized labor and technology and go work in fields as a serf.


Also, the leaders during the feudal times were certainly not interested in the wellbeing of people. Where on earth did you get that idea? Feudal lords only cared about their own power and wealth.


That's quite amazing. It reminds me of a book I read last year, "Kingdom of the Wicked". It presumes an industrial revolution in ancient Rome, around about the time you mention the Aeolipile was invented.

The book is set in the first century CE; the Romans have cars, television, and other trappings of industrial life. It's really well written, if you're a history buff you'll chew right through it.


I hope robots lead to smaller, tasty strawberries (i.e. the normal ones).

The strawberries I find in the US are all enormous and have no taste. I have always assumed it's because these are easier to harvest.


That's probably because you're buying them year-round at supermarkets instead of in the summer at farmer's markets.

Strawberries are extremely, extremely perishable.

Ones that can be grown year-round in California and survive shipping to New York need to be larger and harder to not turn to mush, there's just no other option.

But here in New York, in June and part of July (only) you can of course buy delicious local strawberries that are everything a strawberry should be. Usually at orchards or farmers' markets -- local supermarkets usually don't carry them, I'm not sure if it's because of logistics (they really need to be sold same-day or next-day in the worst case) or because farmers don't want/need to give a cut to a middleman, or both.

So I don't think robot picking will change any of that.


Nope, is jus that 1) big strawberries are often treated with giberelines (a plant hormone) to grow big

2) Off season reasons. There is a race to put the first strawberries in the market. They are sold for more money (because is a luxury and people want to celebrate the end of a harsh winter), but lack taste. Is the prize to pay for wanting to eat strawberries at the "wrong time" and in some sense is not an unfair prize. Many early or extra-late fruits are not so good as the in season cultivars, but when they mature there is nothing more, so is also fine to have it.

You can just wait for the spring and taste more flavoured fruits.


No, it's because consumers believe bigger = better.

Same thing with people saying the Dutch tomatoes they find in their supermarket are watery. No, it's because your supermarket has found that they can make more by selling the bigger (and cheaper) tomatoes. They could easily buy the more tasty varieties if they wanted to.


> The strawberries I find in the US are all enormous and have no taste. I have always assumed it's because these are easier to harvest.

You must be getting them from the wrong place, because the ones in California are delicious. You can often find them on the sides of highways in farm country. Spectacular.


I live in Palo Alto and don't see the small strawberries I'm used to even at the two farmer's markets. They're always the huge ones. I'm used to the tiny ones the size of my fingernail. I grow them myself (they spread everywhere) but I never see them in shops around here.


Someone told me once that european strawberries grew wild in forests and those were the only strawberries europeans knew. Small and very sweet but so fragile that you can't really pack and sell them.

Eventually some europeans stumbled upon american strawberries: Bigger, less fragile, less sweet, less tasty. They hybridised the two kinds and got today's garden strawberries.

Not sure if it's even close to what really happened, but thought I'd share :) as I found it interesting when I was told about "fregoline di bosco"


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strawberry

> The garden strawberry was first bred in Brittany, France, in the 1750s via a cross of Fragaria virginiana from eastern North America and Fragaria chiloensis, which was brought from Chile.


My understanding is that it was just selective breeding -- strawberries might be the most recently domesticated plant, Europe 1200-ish?

And like everything else, the more modern varieties are bigger & easier to farm, at the expense of taste.


wild strawberries are really really small (pea sized) and they can be found in southern europe (italy, croatia, I know for sure).

They are incredibly tasty but I've never seen them in a shop, you just pick them on your own.

Intensive agriculture is definitely used for strawberries in europe too, and it constitutes the vast majority of the market.

They can generally (when in season, and fresh) be as tasty as what my father grew.


Anecdotal: A strawberry farmer once told me that people prefer to buy the bigger ones, unaware they are less tasty, so that's what he's growing.

gumby 31 days ago [flagged]

I guess it's like the chickens: large and without flavor. Perhaps most people in the US have never experienced ordinary food?


Its the economy of scale that ruins our food. Agriculture is 2% of our economy. Better taste etc would cost more. Its a free-market spiral where a thing can be made a little cheaper but gets a little worse, until all you can buy is crap for almost nothing.

Or switch to boutique products (food, furniture, whatever) that costs 10X - 100X more than the commodity stuff.


Math checks out. You want quality food? You want the grower and its employees to earn a living wage? You have to pay for that.


But don't economies of scale still say that you can improve prices for good tasting food by scaling up from the small farms? Maybe that just gets taken to the extreme year over year when people focus on constantly increasing profit.


I want quality food that is mostly produced automatically.

mamon 31 days ago [flagged]

After I moved to California (quite recently) I was shocked by the quality of food here, compared to Europe. In fact I think most of so called "American cuisine" are actually workarounds for that poor quality.

They use enormous amounts of ketchup, because it very efficiently kills the taste of everything underneath.

They use toasters, because American bread tastes like it was made of sawdust mixed with gum, and toasting it makes it taste slightly better.

They grill a lot of things for the same reason.

They eat a lot of eggs, because it is almost impossible to cook them wrong :)

And they don't eat much of the vegetables, because they are expensive and hard to come by. I've actually been to a Walmart which, despite being huge (200k sqft) have not sold any fresh vegetables at all.


I don’t know which part of California you’re in, but this certainly isn’t true of the cuisine in San Francisco. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant that used ketchup on anything but fries or burgers.

I’ve had plenty of bad food in France and Italy by the way, you can get bad stuff anywhere.

Judging a nations cuisine by personal anecdotes is not very rational.

And Walmart is not really a grocery produce store. If you want fresh vegetables, go to your local grocer, farmers market, or atleast a Whole Foods. I mean if you’re going to Walmart to buy vegetables, perhaps your buying “American cuisine” at the wrong places too. Anyplace slathering ketchup on stuff is fast food or fast casual, or a really shitty restaurant.


Actually I'd say it is very much true of most San Francisco cuisine and produce which is ridiculously overrated. You can go to an average restaurant in Paris run by some working class schmuck and get Chez Panisse tier food for half the price or less.

I'm not sure how you're supposed to judge a nation's cuisine by anything but personal anecdotes, unless you have some metric for noticing American tomatoes taste like paste, and Italian ones don't.


You could start by having double blind taste tests. People love to wax on about their taste abilities and end up failing in real experiments. French wines always beat California wines Until they did the Judgement of Paris blind test and were shocked to find California wines topped all categories.

This whole discussion reminds me of the Conan O’Brien running skit where his “Producer”, an over the top Europhile, is constantly commenting on how everything is better.

https://youtu.be/vuDMiFwWTM4


There have been some outstanding wines produced in California. I know they exist but I haven't tasted them since they are way outside of my price range.

But for $15 / €12, you can buy excellent wines in France. In the US at that price range, it is extremely rare to find good wines. Just like strawberries, it's about the appearance (the bottle, the label, the name) and not the flavor.


I'm sure the California vintners association was able to gin up some propaganda stunt where they came out on top on a stacked deck. I think their hooch mostly tastes like berries cut with paint thinner, and for equivalent price I was always able to get a much better wine from just about anywhere else even when I was shopping in California. Could be the vintners are all barbarians, or just their property taxes make decent wine at a decent price to be non-possible.

Literally the only people I have ever met who think SF or California in general have food worth barking about are people who live there and don't get out much. For America even a small place like Portland Maine is vastly more interesting, better quality ingredients and better in general.


The contest was run several times and originated by the British and used French judges. There was no way to “stack the deck” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judgment_of_Paris_(wine)

Maine more interesting? Maine is mostly white. California is far far more racially diverse and the cuisine is a result of a large number of immigrants and cultures mixing. I doubt you’ll get any comparable Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, or oodles of other ethnic cuisines there, nor the countless fusions that have been produced. From a variety standpoint there’s no way Maine compares.

SF has the most restaurants per capita of any city in the US.

Your comments basically sound like snobbery to me, and unjustified by anything other than personal opinion and anecdote.


>Maine more interesting? Maine is mostly white. California is far far more racially diverse and the cuisine

Lol, yes, because white people don't know how to cook anything. Great argument. I guess you've never been to Maine.

>SF has the most restaurants per capita of any city in the US.

Obviously having the most of something means they're the best!

I agree: I am a snob -I think SF is bloody awful and people who say "the food" is something to crow about rarely notice the rivers of human sewage flowing by their restaurants, or the fact that the tomatoes taste like paste.


"rivers of human sewage"? Sounds like you have issues beyond being a snob.


I guess my issues involve having working nose and eyes for detecting the human shit on the sidewalk?


On the other hand, in France you can buy fresh produce in all Walmart-type stores.


Hypermarkets in France are typically half to one fifth the size of Walmart Supercenters, not exactly the same.

A typical Albertsons, Safeway, or Ralph’s is more the size of France’s big box stores, and those do have fresh produce.


Not sure. The hypermarket I grew up going to had 80 (eighty) checkout lanes and sold everything you'd find at a Walmart Supercenter, but with way more selection.

As for the food sections in a typical grocery store in the US (Kroger, Publix, Albertsons, Safeway), it is laughably tiny and the quality is depressing.


I looked up the average square meters and Walmart’s supercenters tend to be 1.6x to 2x.

For example, Carrefour vs Walmart


Carrefour has got a lot of different sized shops, with the smallest in city center with size of less than 50 sq meters. Of course if you've taken the average size of only the big ones, then the difference is quite big.


Be fair - it cost 10X at the farmers' market. My local Wal-Mart has excellent vegetables. Maybe not the variety.


My take on Bay Area food culture is that people are too caught up in the rat race to perceive the difference between good food and expensive food.

This results in inflated prices and inconsistent quality, with an emphasis on over-salting, sugaring, buttering things (as the lowest-common-denominator market demands).


FWIW Walmart is the largest seller of organic food in the USA.


I understand why you are being downvoted because to label a whole countries cuisine as being bad is a massive generalisation.

But I've got to agree that my experience in New York was pretty similar. Even in a fine dinning steak house, the steak was hidden by a 'salt crust' which made it practically impossible for me to enjoy it. In an Italian the tomato sauces were so sweet they reminded me of the sauce you'd have with baked beans. Everything was just over done in one way or another.


> In an Italian the tomato sauces were so sweet they reminded me of the sauce you'd have with baked beans.

On the other hand, most -if not all- of tomato sauces in the UK are so acidic that Spaniards living in the UK are importing tomato sauce from Spain (as it has a bit of added sugar). It might be similar with actual Italians, so maybe this example is just that you're used to your way of having tomato sauce :)


True. I understand that drinks manufactures adapt their products to suit different markets. The Fanta "Orange" I've seen in Europe seems paler and possibly less sweet compared to the ones in Africa. I wouldn't be surprised if Coke tasted slightly different depending on which part of the world you happen to be.


I can vouch for that. My father used to bring a pack of Cokes back from Florida whenever we went growing up. Good old High Fructose Corn Syrup!

Everything in America appeared to be shifted towards an extreme though. Fattier, bigger, saltier or sweeter than you'd find in much of Europe.


UK Fanta contains orange juice and sweetener because of the sugar tax. Had international Fanta (possibly American or Arabic) on a Qatar Airways flight and it was bright orange with no real fruit, and most importantly, sweet and I felt satisfied after half a cup.


Coke does taste differently - the ingredients are different even across Europe. I always look forward to visiting Germany because I always bring a 4-pack back.


> Coke does taste differently

It's usually cut down with things like chalk and aspirin when sold to final customers across Europe.

Oh, you meant the other Coke. Nevermind :D


> Even in a fine dinning steak house, the steak was hidden by a 'salt crust' which made it practically impossible for me to enjoy it.

I don't know what restaurant you were at, but this sounds quite unusual for "fine dining steak house"s in New York.


It was the Strip House. I'm not trying to single out specific places though, more of a general feeling when in the US (and Canada incidentally).


Every Walmart I've been to has fresh produce. But to your point, if you want a large variety of fresh produce for cheap you go to an ethnic food store. Around Atlanta that would be the Asian and Mexican grocery stores, which are as large as Walmart, stocked majority of produce. It's bustling with customers, carts full of produce.

The produce section at Walmart is actually larger than my local so called grocery stores (Kroger, Publix...)... Where carts are full of cereal and other non perishable food.

On the topic of strawberries, they would be half the price at the ethnic super markets.

I somewhat disagree with the statement grilling takes the taste and hides the freshness. I would say that to frying. If you go to your local "seafood" restaurant most of the menu is fried this, fried that.


> And they don't eat much of the vegetables, because they are expensive and hard to come by

Nearly everything you said is incorrect, this one in particular. Vegetables are not expensive in the US compared to other nations of similar incomes.

The US is a leading producer of vegetables such as cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, squash, potatoes (/tuber), onions, turnips, soybeans, carrots, pumpkins and tomatoes (/fruit). Globally the US is third in vegetable production, behind China and India. For one example, the US produces about 15% of all lettuce globally (with 4% of the world population). Vegetables are more than plentiful in the US, we unfortunately waste enormous amounts of vegetables.

The US consumes more vegetables per capita than these European nations:

Germany, UK, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Russia, Austria, Ireland, Iceland, Hungary, Czech, Bulgaria

US vegetable consumption is almost identical to the average of the EU. It's also essentially identical to the consumption in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Interesting fact: the poorest countries in Europe typically consume 50% to 100% more vegetables per capita than the wealthiest countries in Europe.

Source: FAOStat


> Interesting fact: the poorest countries in Europe typically consume 50% to 100% more vegetables per capita than the wealthiest countries in Europe.

This is indeed interesting, but I guess vegs are mostly grown on poorer countries (except Netherlands I suppose), so it's cheap and easy to buy local vegs. Also, mediterranean/southern european countries (Italy, Spain, Greece - poorer than their northern neighbours) have different diets than northern countries. Less meat and more tomato/olives/uncooked stuff as the climate doesn't require to ingest as many calories as in the north.


I used to live in an area where was-marts were built out very densely, probably a dozen super-centers within easy driving distance. When the stores first open they tend to have really great produce, then after six weeks or so everything falls off, and your left with overripe/wilting produce, and the fruit flys are like a plague. After seeing this pattern a number of times I decided that the good produce goes to store openings, then once people develop a habit of going to the store they start sending the good produce to the next store opening.


Agreed its usually quantity over quality. California is perhaps freshest and tasiest in the nation, with the healthier lifestyles, local farms and Mexican influence. You should try the midwest.


> And they don't eat much of the vegetables, because they are expensive and hard to come by. I've actually been to a Walmart which, despite being huge (200k sqft) have not sold any fresh vegetables at all.

Are you kidding me? Find a farmer's market.


In the EU, you don't have to find a farmer's market to get fresh produce.


To be fair, you can find poor examples of food in Europe too (and very poor hygiene).


Going to call shenanigans on your claims. Vegetables and fruits in California are quite cheap, especially the organic and heritage types because they're grown locally here.

And having eaten European food, I would say the quality of most of it is trash. The French drown their dishes in butter because that's the only thing that makes their food palatable. British, Irish, and Scottish food simply isn't unless you're drunk, which explains their proclivity for drinking at every meal. And Italian food? It's best ingredient comes from America...


You apparently didn't eat much proper food in France or Italy beyond some take-away junkfood or maybe some obscure highly local cuisine without any clue what you're ordering, otherwise I can't explain such a disconnect from reality. UK food generally is not considered haute-cuisine by anybody so that's a weird comparison.

But then your post is full or weird stuff - organic local food being "especially cheap" doesn't make much sense, when everywhere this is the most expensive category due to extra costs on whole process of growing/treatment/transport


Before I went in-house, I counted a number of Michelin-starred chefs as clients and I ate at most of their restaurants. I know what good food can taste like. While in France, I ate at a variety of highly-regarded local sit-down restaurants, expecting truly amazing food. I was not impressed, nor was anyone else in my group.

The ingredients were about on par with organic vegetables available at my local grocery store. (I live in a nice part of California, so we have better access to fresh organic heritage vegetables than almost anywhere else in the world--including Europe.)

While the food certainly looked much fancier than what I normally in in America, and the cooking was far better executed than most American restaurants, on a flavor basis it was merely average. Quite simply, I've had more flavorful food at a taco stand.


Well you basically answer yourself in your last sentence - neither French nor Italian cuisine is aiming for similar taste experience as some taco stand. Since you are so mightily experienced, you for sure know that french cuisine is generally regarded as best in the world due to many reasons. That's a general comparison obviously, so picking some specific places here & there the comparison can end up differently.

You can also try to compare it to indian cuisine for example, which is fabulous for many people (including me) and reasons, but an attempt to compare those is an indication that you don't really have a clue about whole haute-cuisine experience. And lets not forget you considered some of British cuisine as something to compared to, which is... a bit clueless, isn't it.

But its good that you enjoy tacos, that's clearly more your type of experience.


Ingredients! Potatoes, tomatoes, corn. Chocolate AND vanilla. Tobacco. Chili peppers. And on and on...


This lines up with my anecdotal experience of watermelons.

Watermelons used to be quite large, and packed with large, dark seeds. From these, I learned what watermelons taste like. At some point, I think in the late 1980s or early 1990s, growers started selling seedless watermelons in increasing numbers. We never bought these, because they were generally inferior in taste and texture. But they were easy to cut up, and to put into a fruit salad without getting any watermelon seeds in it. As time went on, the seeded shelf space decreased, and seedless increased. Then they started getting smaller in the 2000s.

Now, you cannot find a full-sized, genuinely watermelon-flavored watermelon in the supermarket. They are all these tiny, muskmelon-sized seedless orbs, with pale pink flesh that is vaguely reminiscent of a watermelon--like a sweeter, pinker cucumber. And these disappointing little 5# sterile triploid things cost the same as a full-blown 20# "real" watermelon.

The small strawberries are still available--sometimes. It is readily apparent that growers are still experimenting with different cultivars. I really only want two things from strawberries. I want them to taste like strawberry, and I want them to not be covered with mold the day after I buy them. The big ones seem to last longer, but the small ones generally taste better. So I don't see a clear winner there yet. If I had the choice, I'd probably buy the smaller ones and save the longer-lasting species for table fruit later in the week. But this puts the strawberry in direct competition with other fruits that tend to go moldy faster. The produce manager probably wants fruit that can stay on display long enough to get sold rather than go moldy before someone can pay for them. So my preference doesn't matter.

It isn't really that "people" prefer to buy them, but that supermarket produce managers prefer to sell them. People generally don't get two different varieties to choose from. If they want "strawberries", they buy what the store stocked, or they don't. And the store wants to stock fruits that bruise less easily, grow redder, hold more water, and rot more slowly. Just like with the tomatoes.

The "pick your own" places could cater to consumer preferences, but those will be shaped by what has been available to them previously. The "self pick" farms are only open during the local growing season, while the grocery stores are importing the varieties they prefer all year. The stores train them to seek out firm, shiny red, gigantic strawberries.


The strawberry farmer that gave me that answer did, in fact, have both for sale in a farmer’s market, and the answer was in response to the inquiry why he has about 5 times the shelf space dedicated to the large strawberries.

I guess I should count myself lucky that I can still get full size seeded and full size seedless watermelons, with essentially no difference in flavor (seeded are indeed a little sweeter, but not by much). Also, they are quite red, dark red if ripe-on-the-edge-of-spoiling, but decent red with still about a week or so of shelf life.


Faster per strawberry or faster per day? If per day, a robot can move slower and run 24/7. I could see advantages to this for pest control for some types of produce as well, as some pests are nocturnal.

This may be a little taboo to speak of, but I should add that the field workers in my neck of the woods were paid by volume and discouraged from using the portable restrooms. The people running the strawberry fields saved money by not having the septic truck come out as often, too. I am not sure how common this is.


My parents grew up picking tobacco over the summer and it was apparently the thing to urinate on the leaves to mess with the girls preparing them for drying. Something to think about.


> The future of agricultural work has arrived here in Florida, promising to ease labor shortages and reduce the cost of food

There is no labor shortage. There's a bunch of growers whining about having to raise wages to attract workers. Even 25$/hour isn't that great if you factor in the opportunity cost of seasonal work.

Raising prices and going out of business are valid options for entrepreneurs. That's how the market allocates resources. Unprofitable work is inefficient.

> He pays his workers between $10 and $14 hourly. They’re mostly local folks.

> “A lot of Americans have become lazy,” Carrigan said. “They want a paycheck. They don’t want a job.”

More like a lot of Americans have better things to do than doing seasonal work for 10$ to 14$ an hour. Good for them!


Seasonal work at $10-$14/hour is not sufficient to support a person still living in the US during the off-season. The employer is relying on that worker's ability to find work in other seasons, or to decamp to a less costly locale. Even full-time, year-round work at $14/hour is a poverty-level wage by census thresholds for a household size of 5 or more.

A lot of Americans have become pinched by increasing living costs and stagnant wages. They haven't become lazy; they just haven't become more stupid. Working a job has actual costs and opportunity costs. Does the nearest bus route have stops near your farm? Do workers have to cover their own insurance costs? Are they eligible for benefits that would be cut if they have earned income? Could they earn more in another job with better working conditions?

The expectation Americans have is, like people in other countries, that if they work all day on a job that can't be easily done by a robot, they should earn enough to be able to support themselves without further supplementation via welfare programs or charity. When housing costs and healthcare costs go up, that means the opportunity cost of living near enough to a farm to work on it, and assuming the risks of working on a farm, makes the wage minus the implicit costs of working there less than the profit of working for a lower absolute wage at a business in town.

These people calling workers lazy have no idea how much it costs people just to come to work for them. If they did, they would be clamoring for socialized medicine and public housing, instead of fighting it.


Another year, another strawberry harvesting robot.

I've worked on agri projects that looked into the feasibility of this, though we never attempted to pick anything. The reason strawberries are always the fruit of choice is because they're a high value crop. They're also a relatively easy fruit to identify based on colour, and the way they're grown makes them relatively easy to segment against the surrounding foliage.

The main issue is cost. Several projects died in the UK (see http://ict-agri.eu/node/36238) because the end-users i.e. big growers didn't see there being value for money. So no, cheaper is not happening. And this is in a country with Brexit looming and a heavy dependence on season labour; though I don't know if we have a shortage, only that British people don't want to do it.

https://www.southeastfarmer.net/section/fruit/robots-arent-r...

From the article:

> The robot rarely hurts the produce. But as of today, one robotic apple-picker costs at least $300,000 — too much for most budgets.

In the UK the money is in high value glasshouse crops like berries and tomatoes. One issue is you would have to design the entire glasshouse to optimise for robotics. Ever tried to drive a robot in a glasshouse? The floor is often bare dirt or covered with polyethene sheeting which gets caught in whatever wheels you choose. Outdoors is another matter. A lot of harvesting robots just rip up everything which is.. one way to do it. Bear in mind that indoor agri is usually fairly automated already, certainly with regard to climate control. Europe, particularly the Netherlands, has this down - absolutely enormous installations.

There are lots of strawberry startups. Agrobot (http://agrobot.com/), a Spanish company, looks the most promising and I think you can actually buy it. Their technique is also very simple and avoids complications with robotic arms. There's also Dogtooth, Octinion, and more..

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43816207 (Harvest CROO is also mentioned)


The strawberries in the agrobot intro video [0] are so orange I'd never eat them, much less buy them. Just from watching the video, I get a sour, dry taste in my mouth. Who'd possibly produce a video like this, when their business is strawberries?

But then again, maybe that's the operating requirements of the system, because they're dropped, not placed in the transport bins. You couldn't drop ripe ones without damaging them.

[0] https://youtu.be/SmOkhVu6oUI?t=5


They are a B2B company. Their clients pick the strawberries like this, so when they get to the supermarket shelves in the other side of Europe they're red.

If you make a robot that can only pick ripe fruit... well, you're up for a nasty surprise.


Better and faster? Maybe. Cheaper? Definitely.

Approximately $20k per low-skilled immigrant household per year in taxpayer funded benefits. 57% of immigrant households (legal and illegal) use welfare. And 25% of our federal prison population are in the country illegally.

So the real price of strawberries would likely go down, considering the high cost the nation bares for the immediate gratification of cheap fruit.


> 57% of immigrant households (legal and illegal) use welfare.

Fact: 57% of _homes with children_ where the head of household is an immigrant use welfare, where these are the welfare programs in consideration: "The welfare programs examined in this report are SSI (Supplemental Security Income for low income elderly and disabled), TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), WIC (Women, Infants, and Children food program), free/reduced school lunch, food stamps, Medicaid (health insurance for those with low incomes), public housing, and rent subsidies."

It could be millions of children, many US citizens, receiving reduced lunches. I didn't read much further because I didn't need to in order to be totally fine with feeding children, many of whom are US citizens. (Edit: to be clear, I'm ecstatic to be taxed to feed non-US citizen children as well).

About the prison situation:

> A 2005 report estimated that 27% of federal prison inmates are noncitizens, convicted of crimes while in the country legally or illegally.[34] However, federal prison inmates account for six percent of the total incarcerated population; noncitizen populations in state and local prisons are more difficult to establish.

It is 'technically true' that 27% of everyone in federal prison, or about 1.5% of the total prison population in the United States, was an immigrant in the country legally or illegally. The statistic doesn't go into more detail where I read.

Regarding the first entry, "$20k in costs per immigrant household per year", is complicated, and any person interested might want to spend time reading the wikipedia entry on the economic effects on immigrants [3].

[1] - https://www.disabled-world.com/news/america/immigrants.php [2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_St... [3] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_impact_of_illegal_imm...


Well, obviously it would not happen unless there was a strong financial incentive. It would be a pretty big capital investment.

That aside, there are a few caveats that need to go with your citations.

Firstly, farm labour is simply not a "low-skilled" profession. You cannot up yourself from your chair, go to pick fruit, and expect to be anywhere near as productive as your "low-skilled" immigrant co-workers. Not until you have several years of experience. If you have any doubt, definitive proof of this can be found in the relative pricing of slaves (prior to emancipation) based on their years of field experience.

Secondly, although 57% of immigrant households do receive social benefits, in most cases it is an American citizen who is the person in the household eligible to receive the benefits.

Thirdly, illegal immigrants are disproportionately represented in federal prison populations because (i) illegal immigration is a federal crime, and (ii) international drug trafficking is a federal crime. Illegal immigrants are disproportionately likely to be in prison for one of those offences. However, there is no statistical correlation between immigrant populations (legal or otherwise) and higher crime rates.


This is a myth. Just as a starter, most low income people pay most of their taxes through sales, payroll and property tax (through rents and car registration). They pay a full share of both sales and property taxes and most of payroll taxes. Not only that, but about half of illegal immigrants pay income taxes [1].

One side is a bit worse, but the immigration policy debate is full of myths and wrong assumptions about basic facts.

Here's decent coverage of the more complex bits: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-10-30/immigr...

another:

https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/how-do-undocumented-immigr...

[1] https://www.vox.com/2018/4/13/17229018/undocumented-immigran...


Can you cite those numbers? I checked one and even being generous you inflated it by quite a bit.

https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_citiz...

Thst indicates that if every single non U.S. citizen in federal custody were there illegally (unlikely) they’d represent 20% and not 25%. Further clarification from the Cato Institute: https://www.cato.org/blog/another-confusing-federal-report-i...

The evidence that legal and illegal immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated, convicted, or even arrested for crimes is so overwhelming that even immigration restrictionists like Mark Krikorian at the Center for Immigration Studies admit that, “A lot of data does suggest immigrants are less likely to be involved in crime.”

The Cato Institute being famously not left wing I’d add, founded by the Koch’s.


He is probably using reports from the Centre For Immigration Studies. I believe they can be trusted to use real data, but can't really be trusted to represent it in proper context. I'm not sure if they cherry-pick cynically or just out of confirmation bias.

1. 26% of Federal Prisoners are Aliens [https://cis.org/Huennekens/DOJ-26-Federal-Prisoners-Are-Alie...]

2. Welfare Use by Immigrant and Native Households [https://cis.org/Report/Cost-Welfare-Use-Immigrant-and-Native...]


Confirmation bias works both ways.


Shrugging and saying "confirmation bias works both ways" is neither factual nor a valid rebuttal. Confirmation bias is a value-neutral phenomenon. It is neither innate, unavoidable, nor inherent to sociopolitical analysis. It does not "work both ways." It works only one way.

There are numerous sources of policy opinion all across the political spectrum that exhibit confirmation bias. There are also those who attempt to limit their own bias and do scholarly policy work in good faith.

When a person or publishing entity exhibits a tendency to systematical devalue evidence that contradicts their assumptions, that is confirmation bias.


Given that phones comes with FaceID for cheap 3D scanning, and the level of object recognition that comes with deep neural networks these days, I'm curious what major obstacles remain?

Surely pads on robot fingers can ensure soft and distributed enough pressure? Is it something to do with holding the stem with one robot grip while pulling the strawberry? Is it pulling apart parts of the plant systematically to find the strawberries in the first place? Or the fact that the plant isn't rigid like a tree, but that the location of the strawberries depends on how it's being held or pulled apart in the first place?

Also curious what the break-even point is, where even if it collects less strawberries than people do, it still winds up being cheaper.

Kind of bummed the article doesn't go any details at all except for avoiding the half-eaten ones.

I picked strawberries as a kid (we'd go to the local orchard) and it was so much fun, but I can't really remember the mechanics of it.


Detecting strawberries is easy, but there are several factors once you've done that.

You need to determine the location, the orientation to determine the best cutting angle (and then finding a motion solution for the robot). You need to determine if the fruit is occluded and if you can actually reach it. A human will instinctively move foliage out of the way. A robot has to have some way of doing that without destroying the plant.

Different companies have different approaches. I really like the agrobot method which cups the strawberry and then pulls it upwards, severing the stem. Grasping is not viable right now, in my opinion, it's too easy to damage the crop. There's lots of research going on (force-torque sensors, adaptive/smart grasping), but it's still in universities.


Robots can have smaller hands, even tentacles, and not have the same problems with 'things in the way'.

Robots aren't going to pick strawberries like a person would, and its going to be the innovations that make this an interesting solution.


The issue is that there are actually many implicit constraints on the motion plans by which robots would pick strawberries, and when you make any one of them explicit, your whole robots solution might have to be redesigned from the ground up.


Ah, as a kid/teenager I picked strawberries a whole summer holiday to earn the cash for a C64. Back breaking stuff but the reward made it all so worth it!



Ah, haha. No such luxuries there.


There's something to be said for a physical, temporal cost to receive a reward. Cooking my own food or chopping my own wood for warmth really makes me value the result that much more.

Although I don't know that this sentiment applies to this article since it about industrial farming, and not personal gardens.


I think this push i to robotic farming is a very good thing. Working on farms is very dangerous[1] work, and it forces people to contend with these dangers for not very much pay. Of course that begs the question: Should we push for the removal of humans from the equation, or force farms to be safer?

[1]. https://publicintegrity.org/workers-rights/worker-health-and...


Interesting that the picture captioned: "Bob Pitzer, co-founder of Harvest Croo Robotics, holds a fresh strawberry picked from the fields" shows an unripe strawberry.

That sort of strawberry is why I don't bother with out of season strawberries and just buy them here (Norway) when the local ones are in season. Smaller, sweeter, ripe all the way through, and usually much better flavour than most of the imported stuff.


> At the least, social media trains us to stay within the lane of our “brand”.

Even with a very small following, I've noticed this on Instagram. Whenever I post something outside of my niche, my likes take a dive, even if I think it's a pretty nice picture. Though the more I think about it, it's only really training you to stay in your lane if maximum likes and follows are what you're after.


> “If we don’t solve this with automation, fresh fruits and veggies won’t be affordable or even available to the average person.”

I think this mistakenly assumes that the average person resides in a highly urbanised environment with no access to soil, and/or no time to tend even a small garden, and/or the current systems for harvesting all fruit and vegetables can't work in the future.


Henry Kissinger once noted: “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.”

I've been working on a model for a free food distribution system[1]. From the article, Harv is on the way to satisfying step 4. We've seen step 6 addressed with services like FoodDash[2]. The cannabis industry will drive innovation for step 3. Step 8 is being worked on and companies such as Big Wheel Burger[3] are helping. Once nuclear fusion is in place[4], the most difficult part of the model is to accomplish step 5, self-maintenance.

[1]: https://i.imgur.com/MX68gg7.png

[2]: https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/3/18166660/gm-cruise-doordas...

[3]: https://bigwheelburger.com/sustainability/

[4]: https://www.cfs.energy/


It made sense for a long time that picking robots are coming, whats more interesting for me is the timing: it seems like they will mature at the same time as self driving cars


The reason industry wants robots instead of people is because the robots cannot organise themselves into a union (well, until some AI kicks in in a future upgrade).


I usually think of it as trading a capital (up front) cost for a operational (ongoing) cost. They want to purchase machinery up front instead of paying employees/contractors monthly. Usually, this is more efficient as long as they can get their financing up front as well. If they could pay the people up front for 5 years of work, at a fixed rate, they would probably do that.


What if in some year doing harvests makes no sense because of storms or low prices or too little rain or too little sun or whatever. Such years exist. They are very bad financially for them but it would be even worse if they still had to pay for the employees while having no income from sales.


>What if in some year doing harvests makes no sense because of storms or low prices or too little rain or too little sun or whatever. Such years exist.

For strawberries, they shouldn't. You should be growing them inside some kind of shelter with irrigation.


I bet those still in business have accounted for such years. You won't pay for your robots thinking you'll get to sell 100% of your crops every year.


Why does it need to be an AND? If it is much cheaper and faster but 5% worse, why not?


If it's worse at harvesting, that likely means less product, but also a lower grade of product; which means a much lower income for the farm, unless the difference in time to market makes up for it (early season strawberries are significantly higher priced than mid season).


I wonder if there's a middle ground between fully automated robotics farming and smart lo-tech tooling for humans.


I know some people down vote TL;DRs but I do want to save people's time.

The answer is the robot didn't perform well during the demo.


I bet it can eat it faster too!


Betteridge's Law of Headlines expanded - if the answer isn't "No," it's "Not yet."


I suggest calling it the bitxbitxbitcoin addendum.


I think I'd focus on manufacturing strawberries rather than growing them in the ground.




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