Robot technology is almost readily accessible for harvesting fruit on farms in Victoria. In a bid to address the seasonal worker shortage, several researchers and scientists are working hard to get the technology up to scratch for farmers.
- Seasonal labour shortages have provided more incentive for researchers to develop fast harvest-picking robots
- The current material cost for one robot is $80,000 with the cost expected to reduce if the demand increases
- Robots are being trialed across the country to see if they can become commercially viable for farms
Monash University Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering’s Chao Chen is leading the research into developing a robot that uses cameras to scan trees to detect fruit without damaging the tree.
“Currently it can harvest an apple at around 7 seconds — depending on the travel distance — and it takes around 4 to 5 seconds for a human to pick an apple,” Dr Chen said.
“The robot takes images and maps the tree and detects the fruit. This information is how the robot picks the fruit.”
Dr Chen says the success rate of harvesting apples is about 85 per cent.
Demand needed to make robots affordable
According to Monash University, the current material cost for one robot is about $80,000 but the cost is expected to reduce as demand increases.
Vito Mancini is a citrus farmer in Griffith, New South Wales.
Robots are being trialled on his property and he says it’s not a matter of if, but when the technology will be used on farms across the board.
“I don’t think it is an impossible task, I think robotics will become an assisted part of harvest. It’s quite impressive to see,” Mr Mancini said.
“For farming people there is some fear that it will allow the larger farmers to grow, and the corporate sector, and their fears are valid.
Hunter Jay is the chief executive of Ripe Robotics and is working on the second version of a fruit-picking robot.
“The first version picked fruit sometimes, but not always, and broke down a lot,” he said.
“So we are building the next generation which will be 10 times faster and hopefully won’t break down as much.”
His robot works on a suction system that sucks the fruit and snaps it off its branch.
“I’m hoping the technology will be ready in a year and scale-up in a couple of years and have them on the majority of orchards,” Mr Jay said.