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April 16, 2021

Field trials for award-winning solar farm robot

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The Ladybird farm robot at work in a Cowra beetroot field.
The Ladybird farm robot at work in a Cowra beetroot field.

University of Sydney robotics expert Professor Salah Sukkarieh has been awarded ‘Researcher of the Year’ by the Australian Vegetable Industry’s peak body Ausveg for his work on intelligent farm robots, in particular the ‘Ladybird’.

The Ladybird was designed and built specifically for the vegetable industry with the aim of creating a ground robot with supporting intelligent software and the capability to conduct autonomous farm surveillance, mapping, classification, and detection for a variety of different vegetables.

Professor Sukkarieh who leads a research team dedicated to the advancement of agricultural robotics says his group aims to redefine key areas of field robotics such as sensory technology, materials development and complex autonomous mechanisms.

He says the automation of on-farm processes is poised to play a decisive role in minimising input and maximising output of future agriculture. Automation can help to increase efficiency and yield, by having many of the manual tasks of farming performed by specially designed agricultural robotic devices.

‘Ladybird focuses on broad acre agriculture and is solar-electric powered. It has an array of sensors for detecting vegetable growth and pest species, either plant or animal.

She also has a robotic arm for the purposes of removing weeds as well as the potential for autonomous harvesting,’ says Professor Sukkarieh.

According to Professor Sukkarieh the Ladybird’s first field trip recently conducted in Cowra was a success.

‘The robot was able to drive fully autonomously up and down rows and from one row to the next, while gathering sensor data. Sensors include lasers, cameras and hyper spectral cameras.

Part of our research program is to find new ways to provide valuable information to growers about the state of their paddocks.’

The solar-electric powered bot was charged before heading to the onion, beetroot and spinach farms of Cowra and was fully operational for three consecutive days on the farm.

Future testing of the Ladybird will included a robot manipulator arm located under the vehicle that has potential for spot sensing or spot sampling and looking towards automated harvesting.

An international expert on field robotics and intelligent systems, Professor Sukkarieh will this week address the PMA Fresh Connections conference, held in Auckland, New Zealand – Australasia’s largest pan-industry fresh fruit, vegetable and floral trade show.

As part of the university’s Charles Perkins Centre novel research collaborations Professor Sukkarieh is also working with colleagues from Veterinary Science, Agriculture, Science and Business, to develop new ideas and technologies that will improve our complex food production systems.


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