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Robotics in the New Zealand Apple Growing Sector

Rahul Jangali is currently in his first year of his PhD research and a Doctoral Assistant at The University of Waikato – School of Engineering.  His research mainly focuses on Apple fruitlet thinning using robots and path planning for the robot. His previous qualification at The University of Waikato includes Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (First class honours) and then went to pursue a Master of Engineering with honours which focused on developing a “Cave autosampler for scientific research”.

The autosampler he designed as a part of his Masters has been further developed by a local engineering company in Hamilton and is currently going through commercialisation.

 

The world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, and there is a requirement to increase food production by 50%. New Zealand apple growing sector is one area where it has seen increased production rates consistently for the last few years and is expected a billion dollar industry by 2025. However, the sector also suffers from labour shortages. Our farmers are not able to find the labour to harvest or thin crops from the trees. Furthermore, the use of manual work causes health and safety risks, such as back strain injuries.

Can we use robotics in the apple growing sector to address labour shortages? The solution comes with many research questions such as how can a robot handle trivial tasks that a human can make. Such as decision making as to which fruit to harvest and how delicately the fruit has to be manipulated. This talk will give an insight into the challenges to overcome and the technologies needed to introduce robots in New Zealand apple growing sector.

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