Embracing the robot revolution in horticulture

30 May 2017

M Duke robotics

PhD student Ben McGuinness and Professor Mike Duke with Ben's prototype, designed to automate harvesting and grading of pine tree seedlings in the field.

In clean, green New Zealand, fresh fruit and vegetables are often taken for granted. Globally, it’s becoming harder to supply fresh produce and keep prices competitive against processed alternatives. The success of the horticulture industry relies on developing commercially viable solutions to address the issues facing it.

At this year’s New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays, the University of Waikato’s stand will display robotics designed to streamline work in the horticulture industry. The stand celebrates the University’s, and other, researchers, research institutes, businesses and local authorities that work together to solve the big problems affecting the industry.

Professor of Engineering, Mike Duke says it’s time to embrace the robot revolution in this industry.

“Robots never sleep, which makes them ideal workers. They’ll do the menial work humans should no longer be expected to do, and they work through the night without any extra cost.”

But behind every good robot is a human who brings together some serious smarts, clever engineering, MacGyver-like innovation, and good old Kiwi ingenuity. Collaborative work between the universities of Waikato and Auckland, Robotics Plus, Plant & Food Research and Zespri will be on display at the Waikato stand under a kiwifruit canopy designed to take visitors on a journey into the not-too-distant-future of horticulture.

Highlighting mechanisation, automation, robotics and sensor technologies, a shiny, methodical robotic guest will take centre-stage on the stand. In a brave, new world for the humble apple and iconic kiwifruit, visitors will learn how technology is having a positive impact on the industry’s ability to harvest high quality, resilient crops that will keep New Zealand at the top of its export game.

But it’s not all ‘techie’, there’s a bit of ‘tasty’ too. Danielle Le Lievre, Fieldays Scholarship winner in 2015 and a recipient of the Zespri Innovation Fellowship, has just completed her Master’s thesis examining the development of the G3 variety of kiwifruit.

The G3, marketed by Zespri as SunGold, was developed to be resistant to the Psa bacterium that threatened the country’s kiwifruit industry seven years ago. Danielle’s research, which was part of a larger collaboration between the University, Plant & Food Research and Zespri, aims to provide a better understanding of how to grow the best tasting fruit.

Visitors are invited to get creative at the University’s stand in the Mystery Creek Pavilion and design their own farm-bot capable of making life on the land a little bit easier. They can also suggest names for the robot on the stand.

Come down to the University of Waikato’s Fieldays’ stand and join the robot revolution.