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AU: Banana patch robots within ten years

Robots could be a reality in Australian banana patches within ten years, according to a robotics expert who will speak at the banana industry’s national congress next week.

Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the University of Sydney, Salah Sukkarieh, is a keynote speaker at the Banana Industry Congress and will tell growers there is significant untapped potential for the use of robots that work outdoors to provide information and support to banana farmers.

The Congress runs from 29 May – 1 June at the Palmer Coolum Resort on the Sunshine Coast. Professor Sukkarieh will speak during session on industry innovation. There will also be presentations on banana marketing and supply chain, farm practices and research.

While some banana farms in north Queensland are using some robotics in packing sheds, Professor Sukkarieh sees potential for their use in harvesting as well as other on-farm practices and monitoring.

He believes that within five to 10 years robotics can be making a big contribution to the banana industry. “What is preventing it from happening sooner is the lack of funding to develop the technology,” Professor Sukkarieh said.

“Efficiency can be improved and scalability provided by autonomous harvesters could be possible for banana plantations, and there are other robots that could be deployed for plant health monitoring, pruning and yield monitoring. All of these systems could benefit Australian banana farmers.” He also believes that the costs will not be prohibitive.

“Once the technology has been researched and prototypes developed you would expect that a return on investment would be achieved within a couple of years. Beyond that you get savings in fuel, maintenance and labour, plus added benefits of gathering farm-wide information about the health and other aspects of your farm.”
Commenting on other uses for robotics in farming he said: “We have already done vegetation monitoring and classification by robotic aircraft and this can now be done by using ground robots. This has the potential to be used for assessing vegetation that is healthy or sick, assisting in disease management.

“With higher resolution sensors, robotics could also be utilised to detect pest varieties as well,” he added. Robotic aircraft have already been tested for identifying backyard bananas as part of the National Bunchy Top Project which is fighting the banana plant disease Bunchy Top.

For more information:
Rhyll Cronin
Tel: +61 (0)7 3278 4786
Mob: +61 (0)428 038 330

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