Grains industry on robotics team radar

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University of Sydney robotics professor Salah Sukkarieh.
Camera IconUniversity of Sydney robotics professor Salah Sukkarieh. Credit: GRDC

The team of engineers behind the SwagBot has turned its attention to the Australian grains industry and plan to develop a large-scale and laser weed killer.

University of Sydney robotics professor Salah Sukkarieh told crowds at the Grains Research Development Corporation grains research update in Adelaide last Tuesday the organisation was recently awarded a GRDC innovative technologies grant to expand its research to focus on the Australian grains industry.

Australian Centre for Field Robotics, based at the University of Sydney, has worked with Australia’s horticulture and livestock industries — developing autonomous machinery — for the more than a decade.

He said ACFR’s experience in other agriculture sectors “had the potential to be adapted to aspects of the grains industry”.

“Robotic systems are transitioning out of the laboratory into operational field trials and soon commercial activities will be taking place,” Mr Sukkarieh said. “The intent of this discussion is to share some of the cutting-edge technologies ACFR are developing.

“We also want to ask the grains industry if, or how, they believe these, or similar technologies can be introduced to revolutionise grain farming productivity.”

ACFR, which is one of the largest field institutes in the world, plans to develop an autonomous platform for large-scale grain production systems. It would likely use actuated mechanical and laser weed killing for site-specific control, Mr Sukkarieh said.

“The agricultural systems developed are not just robo-tic platforms, but also include the sensors and algorithms needed for intelligent action on farm,” he said.

“This will focus on novel sensing and actuation systems that can target weeds without chemicals among crops.”

As one of the world’s leading field robotics groups, ACFR’s previous agricultural work centred around the livestock, horticulture and tree crop industries.

One of its most well-known tools is an all-terrain cattle farming robot called SwagBot, which can navigate farm obstacles including hilly terrain, water, mud and branches.

The machine can autonomously navigate predefined farm routes, detect and spray weeds, and herd cattle to better pastures.

ACFR’s research priorities include developing aerial platforms and machine learning techniques for detection of weeds over large landscapes, ground robotics for the grazing livestock industry, development of crop intelligence and decision support systems for the vegetable industry, low-cost robotics for supporting agriculture on small-scale farms across a broad range of commodities and using agricultural robotics applications for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

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