Robotics could improve agricultural competitiveness

Robotics could offer Australia’s agriculture industry a chance to regain its competitive edge and become Asia’s ‘food bowl’, according to a University of Sydney professor.

Image courtesy of [stevanin] \ FreeDigitalPhotos
Image courtesy of [stevanin] \ FreeDigitalPhotos
Professor Sukkarieh, Director of Research and Innovation at the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies’ Australian Centre for Field Robotics, addressed Australia’s Annual Growth Summit with a presentation entitled ‘Technology and Innovation: Our Newest Agriculture Export’.

The summit held on September 19-20, 2013 reviewed the economic contributions of Oz agriculture to domestic and international markets and investments in long-term research and development as part of a National Economic Review series focused on food production and sustainability in Australia and overseas.

According to Professor Sukkarieh, the Asia-Pacific region is looking to Australia for farming and agriculture solutions however the declining labour force and outdated technology could well impede the country’s ability to meet the demand for fresh produce.

“This is where automation can help. We can use it to increase efficiency and yield by having many of the manual tasks of farming performed by specially designed agricultural robotic devices.”

“The robots can collect vital information, estimate yield and identify pests, weeds and diseases. The units can be controlled or monitored remotely by farmers using an iPad or phone.”

Professor Sukkarieh’s research team is refining the ability of robots like ‘the Shrimp’ to perform operational tasks such as applying fertilisers and pesticides, watering, sweeping and mowing.

Given Australia’s growing agricultural sector, the team aims to develop and apply automated agricultural robotic systems to benefit both growers and consumers, says Mark Calleija, a research engineer at Sydney University.

“In the next phase we will be developing algorithms that will enable robotic devices to conduct pest management patrols and carry out harvesting,” Calleija said.

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