Tech on the horizon

24 Aug, 2013 04:00 AM

IMAGINE fruit pickers wearing pairs of “electronic glasses” that help them identify ripe fruit. It’s a possibility for farmers of the future.

The innovation side of the Innovate or Real Estate Conference on the Gold Coast for apple, pear, stonefruit and nashi growers was well addressed with several speakers sparking imaginations about the possibilities of new technology.

University of Sydney professor of robotics Salah Sukkarieh, who has become something of a horticulture conference regular, spoke on farm robotics.

He delivered information about the possibility of robotic harvesting for tree crops and crop estimation via GPS-guided mobile “robots” fitted with cameras and senses.

Professor Sukkarieh also made mention of new technologies such as Google Glass which provides a heads-up display for users.

Paired with the right software and camera equipment, this technology could then lend itself to the possibility of glasses that help fruit pickers identify ripe fruit, therefore improving harvesting accuracy and reducing staff training.

Other suggested benefits to on-farm robotics included a possible reduction in occupational health and safety concerns.

An image was shown of a remote-controlled prototype tractor without a cab, therefore removing the need for hands-on human operation.

Craig Hornblow from New Zealand consultancy business AgFirst spoke on crop and quality estimation technology.

He said there were gains to be made by improving harvesting efficiencies and reducing labour costs.

Continual developments were also being made in the field of flavour prediction and eating quality.

“We have to make that apple experience absolutely sensational,” he said.

But before any growers in the room got lost in fanciful futuristic daydreams, Professor Sukkarieh said the commercial availability of any major robotic equipment would be at least 10 years away.

The reality of the these forward-thinking technologies being implemented is possible but both Dr Reed and Professor Sukkarieh encouraged conference attendees to re-think the physical layout of their farms.

“Changing tree architecture is the key,” Professor Sukkarieh said. “We must be looking beyond the robot to how we will use it?”

Mr Hornblow said canopy, adjustments to orchard and vine designs all needed to be explored in sync with the developing robotic and camera technology.



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