Automation assisting fire affected regions to rebuild food production

Automation is helping companies who were affected by the devastation from the recent Australian bushfire season to accelerate food production.

It is estimated that by mid-January this year, an estimated 820,000 ha of agricultural land had been destroyed across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Technological advancements implemented through automation from packaging and palletising, assembly, welding, product handling may help Australian companies to speed up the process of rebuilding its production line.

Universal Robots (UR), who globally distribute the collaborative robot (cobot) manufacturer are becoming more popular in the agricultural industry.

Darrell Adams, head of SEAO at UR said cobots provides manufacturers and industry with the ability to act fast, increase productivity, profits and offer higher quality products.

“Cobots can prove their agricultural worth by assisting producers in getting their businesses back up and running faster and more efficiently,” says Darrell.

According to a recent agricultural robots and drones report, the market for agricultural robots is expected to reach $35 billion within the next five years.

Automation has been implemented within the agriculture and food processing sector, used in planting, seeding, fertilising, irrigation, weeding, thinning, pruning, harvesting and milking applications among others.

Darrell said UR has announced a financial services leasing programme to assist producers who are rebuilding their business.

“We are levelling the playing field by enabling all manufacturers to immediately put cobots to work without an upfront capital investment,” he said.

“It’s time to think more laterally about agriculture. Robotics is the revolutionary new technology which can change the way we think about producing food.”

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has been collaborating with UR to create Harvey, a robotic harvester that combines robotic vision and manipulation techniques to identify and harvest capsicums.

An UR spokesperson said in recent trails, Harvey used images from a camera-in-hand system to locate the fruit. A motion planning algorithm was then used to command a novel multi-mode harvesting tool to safely detach the fruit.

“Results show a fruit harvesting success rate of 76.5 per cent. Harvey also achieved an average pick time of 20 seconds for this field trial compared to 106 seconds by its predecessor,” an UR spokesperson said.

QUT will further develop Harvey this year as part of its involvement in the new Future of Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre backed by $35M in Australian Government funding over 10 years, and $149.6M in cash and in-kind funds from more than 50 participants.

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