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Future tools for farmers on show

NEW INNOVATION: QUT Professor Tristan Perez with Harvey, an automotive capsicum harvester, at the AgFutures Innovation and Investment Conference in Brisbane.
NEW INNOVATION: QUT Professor Tristan Perez with Harvey, an automotive capsicum harvester, at the AgFutures Innovation and Investment Conference in Brisbane. Andrea Davy

THE cliche is a farmer with his dog, but in the future could a grower's right-hand companion be a bot?

AgFutures Innovation and Investment Conference was a wonderland of the latest agri-technology, a few drones were on display and QUT had its AG BOT 11 and its new automotive capsicum harvester, aptly called Harvey, on display.

While the clever machines were the focus of the room, QUT professor Tristan Perez shrugged off concerns that when robots moved onto farms, jobs and people would become obsolete.

"What we are trying to do is make tools to enhance farming,” he said.

"That vision of a having a fully automotive farm without people is not something that we see.”

The AG BOT 11, which was designed to help combat Australia's weed resistance problem, has the look of something that belongs on Mars - it even had the tell-tale red dirt on its wheels.

The robot's cameras, sensors and software allow it to navigate through a field, detect and classify weeds, then use the appropriate chemical to kill them.

But it was AG BOT's smaller brother that had chins wagging at the conference.

Harvey, the capsicum harvester, can successfully identify ripe capsicums, then pick them and place them on its back.

"In the first trials that we have done we have had about a 90% success rate,” Mr Perez said.

"With Harvey, we are looking at commercialisation partners and to have a commercial proto-type developed.”

Although Harvey would be successful in rolling through paddocks picking fruit, Mr Perez said he could offer so much more.

"The vision systems can look at how much crop you have, what quality it is and where it is,” he said.

"That information could potentially be used for Harvey, doing selective harvesting, or the information could also be used for manual picking.

"Because it can help the grower allocate the workforce.

"That was an issue for some of the growers we were talking to.

"They found sometimes they have a small window of opportunity for picking but didn't have the right workforce.”

When you pair accurate data with a farmer's knowledge, the sky is the limit.

"If we combine Harvey's information, this situational awareness, with predictive analytics growers can say 'look, given the weather conditions that we are going to experience in the next two weeks, and given what we have in the field at the moment, we think we will have so much crop by this time',” he said.

Thanks to a $3 million investment from the State Government and seven researchers, both the AgBot and Harvey were developed in less than three years. None of the researchers had experience in agriculture before starting on the project.

Topics:  horticulture qut robotics


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