New Zealand engineers develop horticultural robots

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blueberry, viticulture and general horticulture

University of Waikato engineers have introduced a series of robotic solutions aimed at addressing labor shortages in the horticultural sector. These innovations were unveiled at Mystery Creek Fieldays, showcasing prototypes designed for the blueberry, viticulture, and general horticulture industries. Dr Ben McGuinness highlighted that these technologies are adaptable across various crops, including apples, grapes, and kiwifruit, requiring only minimal adjustments to the robotics.

The team developed a prototype grapevine pruner robot, encapsulating skilled pruning tasks into a robotic arm mounted on a self-propelled aluminium chassis. This robot, which has undergone trials in Marlborough and is set to be tested in Hawke’s Bay, leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning for programming, offering a novel approach to vine pruning.

Additionally, the university’s engineering school has focused on assisting blueberry harvesters with a human-assist harvesting device. Created by Master’s student Alicia Sim, this device utilizes frequency-based shaking to selectively harvest ripe blueberries, addressing the physical challenges and high labour costs associated with blueberry picking.

Moreover, the engineers presented a low-cost navigation system for autonomous vehicles in orchards, providing an economical alternative to traditional GPS and LiDAR technologies. This system is designed for a range of applications, including thinning, grass cutting, pest detection, and harvesting, demonstrating the potential for broader adoption in the sector.

The projects, now seeking private investment for commercialization, represent a step towards reducing reliance on manual labour in horticulture, offering tools for productivity gains and access to a wider workforce demographic.


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