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The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision building robots to help feed the world 

·       The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision to build a asparagus picking robot

·       The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, headquartered at QUT, is the world’s first research centre specialising in robotic vision  

·       Australian researchers are giving robots the vision, understanding and hand eye coordination to help with labour shortages and sustainable food production  

6 October 2017  With the global population projected to reach over 9 billion by 2050 [1] sustainable food production is a significant challenge world-wide and The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision has a solution.

The group of leading robotics researchers is focused on giving the next generation of robots the vision and understanding to help solve real global challenges. The centre’s research will revolutionise many industries and the latest project could solve labour shortages for farmers and help feed the world’s growing population.

They are a great way of filling this labour vacuum, says Peter Corke, a roboticist and director of the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision. Because labour can comprise up to 40% of a farm’s operational costs, robots could also be a money-saving option for farmers. Robotics researchers at the Centre have developed a robot that can not only “see” ripe capsicums on the bush, but gently grab and harvest them. Given the size of the capsicum industry in Australia – the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the 2015 annual harvest at 43,000 tonnes – this is big news for Australian Agriculture.

To achieve the required level of hand-eye coordination, Harvey, which is essentially a robotic arm that trundles along on wheels, uses deep learning. On the end of its arm is a camera – its “eyes” – plus a suction cup and a stalk snipper. Its “brain” is a neural network, which was trained with thousands of images of capsicums and thousands of images of objects other than capsicums.

Harvey’s camera gives colour and 3D information. Even though they’re pretty much the same colour, “a green capsicum has a different shape to a green leaf, so we use the geometry of the object”, Corke says. Once a capsicum is spotted, the suction cup extends and grips the fruit.

Building on Harvey’s 90% success rate in initial trials, the centre has confirmed it will be designing and programming another robot for picking asparagus under the leadership of Australian Centre for Robotic Vision Chief Investigator Rob Mahony from Australian National University in Canberra.

“The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is excited to be building on the Harvey model to create an advanced asparagus picking robot. There are several challenges in developing and programming robots for farming. The robots must have the ability to see fruit, understand when it is ripe and of course be armed with the hand eye coordination to pick the fruit without damaging the produce.”

“The asparagus picking robot will have a robotic arm for picking fruit and will use advanced 3D computer vision and deep learning to distinguish when and how the produce needs to be picked. We will be developing a neural network trained with thousands of images of asparagus and objects other than asparagus which will act as the robot’s brain helping analyse and understand what it sees.”

“Labour can comprise of up to 40% of a farm’s operational costs. The new robots designed and programmed for fruit picking will be used to help with labour shortages and boost sustainable food production for our growing global population,” Mahony says.

Media Contact: LJ Loch 0488038555 or lj@stemmatters.com.au

About The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision 

The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision has been funded $25.6 million over 7 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. The group of researchers are on a mission to give robots the ability to see and understand for the sustainable wellbeing 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 INRIA Rennes Bretagne, Georgia Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, and the University of Oxford.


[1] http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/2015-report.html

Posted October 06, 2017

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