Australia invests £6m in horticultural robotics research

Australia's first horticultural robotics learning and development hub has opened, with the aim of boosting on-farm technologies, raising export capacity and developing "non-traditional areas of horticulture".

Image: Horticulture Innovation Australia
Image: Horticulture Innovation Australia

Based at the University of Sydney, the Horticulture Innovation Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems (HICRIS) will initially host projects in robotics and autonomous technology valued at AU$10m (£6m), funded by industry levies and funds and the Australian Government.

Horticulture Innovation Australia chief executive John Lloyd said: "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."

Research topics at the centre will include automated crop forecasting to predict optimum harvest time and ground-penetrating radar sensors to measure soil water content.

Lloyd added: "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."

The university is already home to the pioneering Australian Centre for Field Robotics. Its director of research and innovation Professor Salah Sukkarieh, the keynote speaker at AHDB Horticulture's SmartAg conference last year, said HICRIS "will attract Australia's brightest minds in engineering and science, and will also act as a training facility for Australian growers".

It will initially have six research fellows, five PhD students and six technical staff.

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