NEW ZEALAND - Scientists from Auckland and Waikato Universities, Plant and Food Research, and the Robotics Plus company are working on technology that could dramatically ease harvest operations in orchards. Although the technology is still in the prototype stage, Bruce MacDonald, the team's research leader and a robotics specialist at Auckland University, says the results are already promising.
The technology, he explains, is built upon the PhD project of Alistair Scarfe of Robotics Plus. Alistair devised a robot which would be able to aid in kiwi fruit harvesting, and seeing the potential of this design, Bruce is excited to develop it further.
"He's developed a very nice prototype that is able to go through an orchard and pick some kiwifruit, that uses a vision system to identify the kiwifruit, and then picks them and puts them through a system where the fruit can be collected, and it drives its way round the orchard,” Alistair revealed. "What we're going to do is extend that, so it can work under all the different kinds of conditions that can happen in an orchard ...so that the robot can navigate round a whole lot of different kinds of orchards and avoid obstacles and always find its way down the right path and so on."
Could we see these robots operating in apple orchards throughout the country one day? If Bruce's research continues successfully down its current path, the answer could very well be yes.
The culmination of this 4-year, $7.6 million project will be a robot which can not only assist in a grower's harvesting operations, but conduct pollution and spraying work as well. According to the Radio New Zealand News, the funding for this project will come from the New Zealand government's latest round of scientific funding.
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