Counting croploads of kiwifruit has become easier after the industry introduced technology used in New Zealand’s America’s Cup success in 2017.
A combination of skill and innovation kept Kiwis on top during the 2017 America's Cup. Christopher Miller, a senior software and electronics developer with Emirates Team New Zealand spanning four America’s Cup campaigns, says artificial intelligence and image processing was critical to the team's success.
"It was really my baby so we got to really learn about making software reliable - making the gear handle tough environmental conditions," he said. It was during a conversation with a friend in the kiwifruit industry that Miller stumbled across an opportunity. "He posed me the question: can you invent a system that can count kiwifruit and I said I think I can."
The lightbulb moment resulted in a converted quad bike that takes thousands of images as it tracks beneath the canopy. "The traditional way of counting this block would take one person about 2 hours for about a one per cent sample of that block, we can scan 100 per cent of the block in 15 minutes," said Miller, founder of orchard scanning and analytics company Fruitometry.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated’s Nikki Johnson says she hopes the technology will improve crop counting. "There have been issues with accuracy of crop counting, so if this improves the accuracy and gives us a better understanding of what's happening in the orchard, then how that will translate through to the markets then that's great,” Johnson said. The images are collected and analysed, mapping out the orchard and where it needs work.
"It's probably one of the best things to happen to the kiwifruit industry in a while, technology-wise, the levels of accuracy on counting fruit and crop loads just become a whole lot easier," horticulture specialist Marc Jenkins said.
The kiwifruit industry is worth billions of dollars and relies heavily on labour. This year the industry will need about 20,000 workers and while this kind of technology won't help find workers, it will help growers redistribute staff.