Technology is a rapidly growing field especially in the areas of automation, drones, and 3D printing. Recently, companies such as Amazon have begun to test delivery systems using drones, removing the need for humans in the delivery of a product. Additionally, smaller companies now can have the additional production capabilities that automation and 3D printing represent, allowing high quality from smaller companies as well as a large increase in customization.
Coffee plantations also largely benefit from these new technologies. Automation could create a machine that would rake the sun drying coffee beans at precise time intervals. This takes away the possibility for human error with someone forgetting to turn the beans after a time interval or raking them incorrectly. Moreover, working in the sun is a hard job, especially over long periods of time and can long amounts of exposure can lead to skin cancer. These machines could take the place of the workers, protecting their health, and letting their labor be used elsewhere on the plantation. Adding the raking machines to the coffee process would increase amount of coffee produced and reducing the number of workers the plantation would need to hire. This could cause some problems with concerns over destroying jobs, however if focusing on worker health, it would be a positive change.
Picking the actual coffee seeds is an extremely laborious process, with multitudes of workers slaving all day with baskets tied to their waist underneath the burning dry season sun of Costa Rica. The baskets catch the rip, red coffee beans that the workers pull off the plants, as well as create back problems for the workers after long days of work, because it is just a simple sash across their back. 3D printing could be used to create back supports more molded across a person’s back and chest, giving extra support as well as allowing the baskets to be even easier to carry around because more muscles would be involved in supporting its weight. This might not benefit the companies as much because it would increase cost, mean more individualized attention for each worker that would have to be redone next harvest because coffee bean pickers are migrant workers and might not return the next season. However, it would help maintain the health of the workers. Individualized tools for the workers shows that the plantation cares about their workers, increasing the likelihood that they would return to that plantation in the future.
However, replacing the coffee pickers entirely, with automation or some type of drone would be next to impossible. First, the delicacy required to remove only the ripe seeds, leaving the plant and growing seeds intact and unharmed, is extraordinarily difficult to recreate with robots. They have no sense of touch or anything that would let them know that they are bumping into the branches of other plants, or grabbing the stem instead of the actual bean. Also, they would have to have a power source. And having a gas or other non-renewable energy source would be go against Costa Rican initiatives and more importantly reduce the level of sustainability a plantation could advertise with. A third problem with creating a robot or drone to pick the coffee for the plantations is the terrain that it would have to traverse. Coffee plantations can be on land ranging from sprawling, flat plantations to small mountainous family farms. Balancing a robot is difficult especially with the variable weight added by the coffee baskets. Coffee is usually organized in rows and have throughs separating the rows, difficult for a human to balance on when muddy, and nearly impossible for the robots. In order for coffee picking to become automated, there would have to be a robot with touch sensors that are extraordinarily sensitive, a large battery for the long work day charged with renewable energy, and amazing balance and maneuverability. Something with all of these would most likely be outside the price range of the coffee plantation owners compared to them hiring more seasonal workers.
Drones can increase the consumption and distribution of the coffee by increasing the availability of coffee to consumers. Drones would be able to deliver to the door of the buyer, increasing convenience, a major factor in buying luxury goods such as coffee, therefore increasing the number of people wanting to purchase that drone delivered coffee. Also, drones are currently a hot topic and buzzword. Adding them to a company’s supplies would create an amazing opportunity for marketing and getting media attention. They would not only affect personal deliveries but they could help ensure that large scale exporting is running according to schedule. Ensuring that containers are properly filled, shipments leave when they are supposed to, and heading to the right destination are all tasks that can be automated, saving time and decreasing the likelihood that someone makes a mistake.