New Zealand: Bay of Plenty tech start-up to revolutionise fruit industry

A tech start-up in Tauranga, in the Bay of Plenty, has received international acclaim with big plans to shake up the fruit industry. They will accomplish this through the use of robots.

Robotic Plus chief technology officer Alistair Scarf described the robot, a hybrid petrol electric vehicle, as "really an autonomous agricultural vehicle that we can build to do a few tasks off".

The robot is just one of a handful of automated systems designed and tested in Te Puna to help address labour shortages in the horticulture and forestry industries. The company recently received $15 million from Yamaha Motors to continue to explore and develop new technology.

Robotics Plus co-founder Steve Saunders said, "What was most exciting to me was really their acknowledgement of the tech that we were developing, so it was a real credit to the young team".

Technology like their apple packers, a machine which can identify and pack 120 apples per minute. Five of the machines have gone to American companies, with 10 more orders from the United States.

"If we were to really scale quickly, how would we manufacture all of these vehicles or apple packers? Having Yamaha, who has huge capability in manufacturing, became a key strategic decision," Saunders said.

Robotics Plus has since more than doubled its staff in six months as demand calls for more efficient ways to collect and pack produce. In 2018, the kiwifruit industry announced a labour shortage, requiring an extra 1200 workers. By 2030, the industry will need an additional 14,000 workers. The machine is expected to help alleviate the pressure.

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