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Could robotics be the answer to horticulture’s seasonal labour shortage?

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The availability of seasonal workers is a topic that is on the lips of many in the horticultural sector in New Zealand. With an upcoming election political parties are debating future immigration strategies while farmers are wondering where they will get suitable workers to attend to seasonal tasks such as harvesting.

University of Auckland PhD student Jamie Bell believes that robotics can address some of the challenges facing New Zealand’s horticultural sector. He was a participant in the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s 2016 Velocity $100k Challenge, which was an important step on his journey to explore the possibilities of robotics in horticulture.

“As a Velocity $100k Challenge finalist, I had access to very helpful clinics with experts and fantastic mentors. I’m very grateful for the kick-start and ongoing support that Velocity has provided through networking and other opportunities”

Jamie is currently involved in a government funded research project called Multipurpose Orchard Robotics – a collaboration between the University of Auckland, University of Waikato, Robotics Plus and Plant & Food Research. The project is developing robotic technology for harvesting and pollinating in kiwifruit and apple orchards.

He spoke at the recent Organic and Biodynamic Winegrowers Conference in Blenheim and captured the audience’s imagination with a practical view of the current capabilities of robotics in the horticulture sector.

The technology under development uses a multipurpose mobile platform which navigates around an orchard using sensors. Task specific robotic arms can be attached to the platform.

“I think a useful way to think about a robot hand or arm is to imagine your hand is numb and you can only use your index finger and thumb, your eyes and not too much of your brain,” Jamie said.

“Any task you can do with that much processing power is something we can do with robotics and in general dull, dirty, dangerous, repetitive jobs are applications we should be looking at.”

Robotic arms were being developed to harvest kiwifruit and although the technology was still slower than hand picking, speed gains were being made all the time as the project developed.

Jamie has also developed a concept for an “Edward Scissorhands-like” robot which could be used in vineyards one day to trim the leaves from around fruit.

Robotic technology is vital to the future of horticulture, enabling affordable solutions to the growing challenges of the industry such as labour shortages, grower sustainability and productivity.

 

Could robotics be the answer to horticulture’s seasonal labour shortage?
Could robotics be the answer to horticulture’s seasonal labour shortage?

social media

The availability of seasonal workers is a topic that is on the lips of many in the horticultural sector in New Zealand. With an upcoming election political parties are debating future immigration strategies while farmers are wondering where they will get suitable workers to attend to seasonal tasks such as harvesting.

University of Auckland PhD student Jamie Bell believes that robotics can address some of the challenges facing New Zealand’s horticultural sector. He was a participant in the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s 2016 Velocity $100k Challenge, which was an important step on his journey to explore the possibilities of robotics in horticulture.

“As a Velocity $100k Challenge finalist, I had access to very helpful clinics with experts and fantastic mentors. I’m very grateful for the kick-start and ongoing support that Velocity has provided through networking and other opportunities”

Jamie is currently involved in a government funded research project called Multipurpose Orchard Robotics – a collaboration between the University of Auckland, University of Waikato, Robotics Plus and Plant & Food Research. The project is developing robotic technology for harvesting and pollinating in kiwifruit and apple orchards.

He spoke at the recent Organic and Biodynamic Winegrowers Conference in Blenheim and captured the audience’s imagination with a practical view of the current capabilities of robotics in the horticulture sector.

The technology under development uses a multipurpose mobile platform which navigates around an orchard using sensors. Task specific robotic arms can be attached to the platform.

“I think a useful way to think about a robot hand or arm is to imagine your hand is numb and you can only use your index finger and thumb, your eyes and not too much of your brain,” Jamie said.

“Any task you can do with that much processing power is something we can do with robotics and in general dull, dirty, dangerous, repetitive jobs are applications we should be looking at.”

Robotic arms were being developed to harvest kiwifruit and although the technology was still slower than hand picking, speed gains were being made all the time as the project developed.

Jamie has also developed a concept for an “Edward Scissorhands-like” robot which could be used in vineyards one day to trim the leaves from around fruit.

Robotic technology is vital to the future of horticulture, enabling affordable solutions to the growing challenges of the industry such as labour shortages, grower sustainability and productivity.

 


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