Australia’s first horticultural robotics learning and development hub, officially opened today, signifying the industry’s determination to adopt on-farm technologies, ramp up export capacity and develop future leaders in non-traditional areas of horticulture.

Located at the University of Sydney, the Horticulture Innovation Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems (HICRIS), will initially host a $10 million commitment to projects in robotics and autonomous technology that aim to increase farm efficiencies.

Hort Innovation CEO John Lloyd and Australia’s Assistant Minister for Agriculture Senator Anne Ruston

Horticulture Innovation Australia (Hort Innovation) chief executive, John Lloyd, said the new centre will help the horticulture industry minimise labour costs and prepare for the future.

“Never before have we seen this level of innovation in the horticulture industry. Through working with the University of Sydney, we have been able to develop technology that can detect foreign matter, robots with that can map tree-crop architecture, and ground-breaking autonomous weed identification and eradication capabilities,” he said.

“Through the Horticulture Innovation Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, this research will be further expanded to investigate capabilities such as automated crop forecasting, to predict the best time to harvest, and ground penetrating radar sensors to measure things like soil water content.

“Importantly through our latest work, which is funded through vegetable industry levies and funds from the Australian Government, we are looking at identifying commercial partnerships with the aim of making these new technologies accessible to growers. The development of horticulture technology standards and policies to meet regulations, will also be a focus.

“This centre will give current and emerging generations of growers and agri-scientists the resources they need to develop their ideas for the benefit of the industry, and all Australians.”

Mr Lloyd said Horticulture Innovation Australia is delighted to be working with the University of Sydney to achieve results for Australian growers.

University of Sydney’s Professor, Salah Sukkarieh, Director of Research and Innovation at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, thanked Hort Innovation for its continuing support of robotic research, saying the HICRIS would further put Australia’s – and the University’s – reputation for developing world-leading technologies, on the world map.

“The Horticulture Innovation Centre for Robotics and Autonomous Systems will be positioned within the University’s internationally recognised Australian Centre for Field Robotics, with access to the nation’s leading roboticists and researchers,” he said.

Professor Sukkarieh said the Centre will initially have six research fellows, five PhD students and six technical staff.

“It will attract Australia’s brightest minds in engineering and science. It will also act as a training facility for Australian growers and the future generations of students who are passionate about creating innovative solutions to make farming more efficient.”

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