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Old McDonald has a farm-BOT

(A.I. A.I. Oh)!

As the Ekka rolls into town, so too are the robots. Not in Sideshow Alley. But on display at the Royal Queensland Show’s inaugural Innovation Hub, marking 142 years since one of Australia’s most popular cultural events first brought the country to the city.

The new educational precinct, located in the Ekka’s Agricultural Hall (9-18 August), casts a spotlight on the future of farming, covering everything from robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to crop biotechnology and genomics.

The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, headquartered at QUT, is proud to be a part of the line-up in collaboration with the university’s Institute for Future Environments. The Institute’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities will also be on display, showcasing its research into foods of the future.

Vision-empowered robots on display include one of the world’s best robotic harvesters, aptly called Harvey, developed by Australian Centre for Robotic Vision Associate Investigator Chris Lehnert, and one of QUT’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) fitted with advance sensing equipment used in a research project aimed at monitoring crops and high-value vineyards in Australia.

“With the global population projected to hit 9.8 billion in 2050, it’s vital we remain focused on giving the next generation of robots the vision and understanding to help solve real-world challenges like sustainable food production,” Dr Lehnert said.

He – and Harvey – are part of QUT’s involvement in the Future of Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre, announced in March, and backed by $35 million Federal Government funding over 10 years, on top of $149.6 million in cash and in-kind funds from more than 50 participants.

Dr Lehnert will be working on developing robotics and smart technology for vertical and indoor protected cropping. He said autonomous vision-empowered robots like Harvey had the potential to assist fruit and vegetable farmers across Australia who often experienced a shortage in skilled labour, especially during optimal harvesting periods.

“The future potential of robotics in indoor protected cropping will be their ability to intelligently sense, think and act in order to reduce production costs and maximise output value in terms of crop yield and quality,” he said.

“Robotics taking action, such as autonomous harvesting within indoor protected cropping will be a game changer for growers who are struggling to reduce their production costs.”

Harvey will be demonstrated at the Ekka’s Innovation Hub, showing how robotic vision and manipulation enable the robot to autonomously detect and harvest capsicums.

While Harvey is destined to help farmers on the ground, from above, Australian Centre for Robotic Vision Associate Investigator Felipe Gonzalez leads a QUT research group that focuses on UAV-based remote sensing.

Flying robots or UAVs – like the S800 drone on static display at the Ekka’s Innovation Hub – fitted with advance sensing equipment including multispectral, hyper-spectral, LiDAR and gas sensors provide researchers with a new toolset in addressing biosecurity, precision agriculture and environmental monitoring.

Associate Professor Gonzalez, an aeronautical engineer, has combined AI and UAVs to protect vineyards from what has been described as ‘the world’s worst grapevine pest’. The flying robots equipped with machine learning and hyperspectral cameras could become a new tool for the grape industry.

They have already proven successful in detecting grape phylloxera (Daktulospaira vitifoliae) in a research trial between QUT, Agriculture Victoria and the Plant Biosecurity CRC (PBCRC). Phylloxera is an aphid-like insect.

There are more than 135,000 hectares of vineyards in Australia, with the industry contributing an estimated $40 billion to the nation’s economy each year. Only select areas are affected by grape phylloxera.

Until now, ground surveys and ground traps have been used to determine the presence and level of any infestation. However, while these are accurate, they are expensive and time consuming.

Associate Professor Gonzalez said images taken by the UAVs, using hyperspectral cameras, could see much more than the human eye. He said each vine had a unique hyperspectral signature, much like fingerprints, with the spectral response of a healthy plant different to that of an unhealthy specimen.

“As the pest infestation level changes, so too does the hyperspectral signature,” Associate Professor Gonzalez said.

“By using hyperspectral technology, we are able to look at not only the vineyard as a whole, but also each individual grape vine, and we are able to detect very subtle differences in the plants, to assess the presence of disease.

“A standard camera that you might use at home films in three colour bands, which are red, green and black. In comparison, a hyperspectral camera films in 270 colours bands. This provides an incredible level of detail and allows us to see much more than the human eye,” he said.

In addition to developing a methodology to improve plant pest surveillance in vineyards and crops using UAV-based hyperspectral and spatial data, the research team also created artificial intelligence algorithms to classify the individual ‘hyperspectral signatures’ of the vines, in a unique database.

“The more fingerprints we can input into that database, the more effective the system will be,” Associate Professor Gonzalez said.

“The information can then be used to build a catalogue of pest and disease levels, which can be monitored over time. The same algorithm could also be used for other pests including botrytis, downy mildew, light brown apple moth, mealybugs, nematodes and powdery mildew.”

Want to meet more robots? On Sunday 18 August, Robotronica, QUT’s free all-day, all-ages robotics and technology festival returns to Gardens Point campus. Revealing the latest advancements and innovations in the fields of robotics and interactive design, Robotronica will be abuzz with demonstrations, games and discussions that will inform, inspire and amaze you. Centre robots on the line-up include SnakeBot and RangerBot.

MEDIA CONTACT
Shelley Thomas, Communications Specialist
Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
P: +61 7 3138 4265 | M: +61 416 377 444 | E: shelley.thomas@qut.edu.au

About The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is an ARC Centre of Excellence, funded for $25.6 million over seven years to form the largest collaborative group of its kind generating internationally impactful science and new technologies that will transform important Australian industries and provide solutions to some of the hard challenges facing Australia and the globe. Formed in 2014, the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is the world’s first research centre specialising in robotic vision. They are a group of researchers on a mission to develop new robotic vision technologies to expand the capabilities of robots. Their work will give robots the ability to see and understand for the sustainable well-being of people and the environments we live in. The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision has assembled an interdisciplinary research team from four leading Australian research universities: QUT, The University of Adelaide (UoA), The Australian National University (ANU), and Monash University as well as CSIRO’s Data61 and overseas universities and research organisations including the French national research institute for digital sciences (INRIA), Georgia Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), the University of Toronto, and the University of Oxford.

Posted August 08, 2019

Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
2 George Street Brisbane, 4001
+61 7 3138 7549