Robots in banana patches

31 May 2013

Robots in banana patches could be a reality in Australian within 10 years, according to a University of Sydney robotics expert who will address the banana industry's national congress this weekend.

Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems Salah Sukkarieh at the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies is a keynote speaker at Banana Industry Congress being held on the Sunshine Coast.

Professor Sukkarieh was invited to speak on industry innovation 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.

While a few 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. 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.

Follow University of Sydney Media on Twitter

Media enquiries: Victoria Hollick, 9351 2579, 0401 711 361,