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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Well, more like two paragraphs (and the bottom picture) in The Economist:

Even pruning can be mechanised. Vision Robotics, a company based in San Diego, has demonstrated a prototype vine-pruning robot. Good pruning requires skill to balance the growth of the vine. The vines also need to be trimmed at certain locations and at precise angles to grow the best grapes for winemaking. The robot is a bit slower than a good human pruner, but it will speed up. It should be able to prune vines at about half the cost of manual labour, says Derek Morikawa, the chief executive of Vision Robotics.

The company is also developing apple- and orange-picking robots with multiple arms. These too rely on building 3-D models of trees and the fruit growing on them. Mr Morikawa thinks the crop-scouting ability of such automated machines will prove highly valuable. Supermarkets, for instance, like uniformity so if they want, say, apples of a certain size and in a particular state of ripeness, a farmer could use the model to identify exactly where such apples are growing.

Vision Robotics is the company I founded about ten (long, long, long) years ago.

I was hoping for The Cover of the Rolling Stone, but hey, a couple of paragraphs on page umpteen gazillion of The Economist is a start. It's certainly a step up from Good Fruit Growers Magazine (I'm not kidding - that's actually the name of a magazine) and the numerous other ag rags that you've never heard of and I can never remember that we've been featured in.

I'm rather hoping this isn't my company's entire 15 minutes of almost fame, but we'll see.


erp said...

Not too shabby Bret! American ingenuity at work. I hope you don't give it up.

Bret said...


As long as there's money to pay the employees, I probably won't give up. I've taken money from investors in the past and I consider it a very serious obligation to provide them with a return if at all possible. So as tempting as a cushy government job is, I'll keep working at it.

Harry Eagar said...

I'm not much of a bracero, but I cannot even figure out which oranges to pick on my tree, because neither color nor size is a reliable indicator of ripeness (at least so far as I can tell).

So I'm impressed if your machine can do it.

erp said...

Bret, you don't sound like a "good enough for government work" kind of guy.

BTW - your robot is very cute, kinda like a preying mantis crossed with the Hindu goddess Kali.

Bret said...


We sent them several pictures and the one they choice is a virtual robot (i.e. doesn't actually exist in reality) for orange picking.

I have no idea why they didn't show one of the pictures of the real grape vine pruner. I guess it's not as "cute".

erp said...

Bret, layout editors want eye-catching pictures and even robots want to look their best for the media. Adding a pretty girl wouldn't hurt either.

Don't knock cute -- it sells.

Bret said...

We've given the grape vine pruner a cute name: snippy. How's that?

erp said...

Nice. How about a picture of him.

Bret said...

A you tube video of the old prototype is here".

The new prototype was just delivered last week and it's not quite working yet and I don't have any photos. But it's much cuter!

erp said...

Looking forward to pictures of Snippy 2.0.

Hey Skipper said...

I got my copy of the Economist yesterday -- I'll be on the lookout for the article.