Robots are horticulture's future

19 Jun 2017

RobotArm

Robots are making a difference in fruit and vegetable pack houses already, as seen in the above picture. This trend will continue.

But the real step change will come from robotics out in the commercial vegetable gardens and orchards. For a number of years, there have been prototype kiwifruit picking robotics under trial and development. Now work is being done on robotic apple pickers. Solar powered robotic platforms for commercial vegetable gardens are also under development that weed, fertilise and spray.

Some of this technology was on display at Fieldays, held last week at Mystery Creek, including a robotic kiwifruit picker. It has been developed by a team of scientists and engineers working with Waikato and Auckland universities partly in response to labour shortages, unreliable labour, and unskilled labour.

The robotic kiwifruit picking machine is designed to do exactly what a person picking would do: progressively removing fruit, vine after vine, under the canopy. Trials have shown, if it is calibrated correctly, it can be gentler than human pickers and more consistent. The end result is higher quality fruit which earns a premium in our overseas’ markets. The developers report that this machine will be ready in the next three years and will be further developed to do pruning and other orchard tasks.

Robots are going to change the face of horticulture worldwide, including in New Zealand. Not in 10 or 20 years, but in the next few years. It will be a very different industry and we will require in addition to our current permanent workforce, talented young New Zealanders who can run, programme and repair our robotic workforce.

-       Mike Chapman, CEO