June 23, 2007

JOBS AMERICANS WON’T DO — unless they’re robots:

As if the debate over immigration and guest worker programs wasn’t complicated enough, now a couple of robots are rolling into the middle of it.

Vision Robotics, a San Diego company, is working on a pair of robots that would trundle through orchards plucking oranges, apples or other fruit from the trees. In a few years, troops of these machines could perform the tedious and labor-intensive task of fruit picking that currently employs thousands of migrant workers each season.

The robotic work has been funded entirely by agricultural associations, and pushed forward by the uncertainty surrounding the migrant labor force. Farmers are “very, very nervous about the availability and cost of labor in the near future,” says Vision Robotics CEO Derek Morikawa.

Eventually, of course, the robots will be made in China, and American-built robots will complain if they’re imported illegally.

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