Fruit robots help growers pollinate

Two Australian-made robots were develoved and used in fruit orchards to find the best positions to place beehives - in order to get maximum fruit output.

Delivered by the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics, the findings came from a four-year study which included the use of two 1.5m-high unmanned vehicles.

The machines were trialled on various fruits including mango's, almond, apple, lychee, custard apple, avocado and banana's.

They worked concurrently on either side of tree rows using a series of cameras, lasers and software to create a series of algorithms which led to the identification of the fruit.

The data supplied by the robots showed patterns in yield variations consistent with a lack of pollination. From this info at a test site, a grower then moved the pollination block and is already seeing results. By monitoring the data patterns produced by these robots growers can effectively help ensure the best yield possible.

“Ultimately, this technology will enable growers to save time and money, allowing growers to get their produce to consumers more efficiently while increasing their overall farm gate returns.”

Hort Innovation Chief Executive John Lloyd said the robots were able to identify the fruit load on the trees with an accuracy rating of between 60 to 96 per cent, depending on the commodity and the amount of leaf coverage and sunlight.

“The study showed apples and mangoes that were visible to the human eye were the easiest for the technology to detect, with an accuracy rating of 92 and 96 per cent respectively. This suggests that the technology for these two commodities is the closest to development,” he said.

He said the next step is to use these findings to inform further development of robotics systems that autonomously harvest, and also have the potential to undertake tasks such as pest management.

Horticulture Innovation Australia is currently investing more than $15 million in autonomous-based projects on behalf of the nation’s horticulture industries, with a host more expected to come online in the near future.

for the full article, please go to the Horticulture Innovation Australia website

21 Apr 2016

By Fiona Stafford