Farmer Bot Patrols the Orchard

Robots working on an almond farm in Australia

Last week, it was cows this week wheat.  The idea of automating the most menial of tasks is not novel, but replacing migrant workers is the wave of the future, and now in the land Down Under.  

Australians take their vegemite sandwiches very seriously, and no one more than Professor Salah Sukkarieh of the University of Sydney.  Prof. Sukkarieh heads up a team of engineers at the school’s department of Engineering and Information Technologies with the aim of turning Aussie’s “food bowl” into robotic envy of the entire world.

Sukkarieh’s arsenal includes an array of monitoring and data gathering automated systems that provide real-time on the ground patrols of orchards in the Horticulture Australia regional center in Mildura. “Traditionally it has been necessary for someone to actually walk through the orchard, taking and analyzing soil and other samples and making decisions on the health and yield quality of the plants,” said Sukkarieh. “The devices we’ve developed can collect, analyze and present this information autonomously, so a major part of the farmer’s job can be done automatically.”

The ground team’s next target will be replacing standard tractors with automatic versions to go beyond monitoring with real-time tasks such as applying fertilizers and pesticides, watering, sweeping, mowing, and harvesting.  “The devices we’ve developed already can identify each individual fruit on the tree and its degree of ripeness, which is about 80 percent of the job done. But being able to harvest them is our ultimate goal,” Sukkarieh exclaimed.  The only  thing missing are the overalls…

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