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Australia: Agri-robotics the way to grow

Robotics could offer Australian agriculture the chance to regain its competitive edge in the global marketplace. That's according to Professor Salah Sukkarieh from the University of Sydney.

The robotics expert spoke about technology and innovation as Australia's "newest agriculture export" at a two-day summit on food production and sustainability in Sydney last week.

Dr Sukkarieh is working on a Horticulture Australia-funded two-year project to develop an intelligent farm robot for the vegetable industry.

The university's Australian Centre for Field Robotics has previously done trials in Victorian almond groves and apple orchards of generic robots used in the mining and defence industries.

Dr Sukkarieh told The Weekly Times the new project would focus on producing a ground-based autonomous robot that could detect crop yields and plant health as well as perform manual tasks, such as weeding and applying herbicides, pesticides and fertiliser.

"You might save on some labour costs or sending somebody out to weed manually all the time, but you're reducing occupational health and safety issues.

"Constantly building up high quality maps of the farm to better inform decisions also provides predictability about what you know you can do."

Dr Sukkarieh said the plan was to build and demonstrate the robot on leafy and root vegetables over the next six months.

It was hoped the system would be ready for commercialisation in two years.

Dr Sukkarieh, who is director of research and innovation at the ACFR, said it employed 100 robotics researchers.

"Australia leads the world in field robotics knowhow in sectors such as mining, stevedoring and defence," he said.

"Agricultural field robotics is lagging because there hasn't been the same level of investment by industry and government."

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