Industrial and workplace robots

Will artifical intelligence improve human lives? Or will robots become sentient and take over the world?

Whether at the forefront of science and technology, or within the best science fiction and art, humans have long been fascinated with mechanisms created in our image  – or to do our bidding.

NZ/German Collaboration in Robotics


This 3D fibre printer is used at the Faunhofer Institute for manufacturing, engineering and automation in Stuttgart.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of bilateral relationships between New Zealand and Germany, a connection which has resulted in many long-standing scientific collaborations. One of them, a joint effort between the University of Auckland's faculty of engineering and the Fraunhofer Institute for manufacturing, engineering and automation (Fraunhofer IPA), is focusing on advanced mechatronics and biomedical engineering.

The Auckland team, led by Peter Xu, has already developed robots that mimic the processes of chewing and swallowing. They are being used to develop and test new food textures and to measure changes during mastication. While a small start-up company is marketing the robot in New Zealand, the Fraunhofer Institute wants to extend its use to dentistry, applying the same machine to test dental implants and to monitor wear in artificial tooth material.

fraunhoferAlexander Verl is a director of the Fraunhofer IPA, which recently won the German future technology award for its flexible 'elephant-trunk' robotic arm and its application in the manufacturing industry. The low-cost technology is produced by 3D-printing, as demonstrated on the left by the Franhofer IPA's group manager for additive manufacturing Steve Rommel, and could also find a market niche in New Zealand as a fruit-picking robot.

The joint effort builds on the long-standing collaboration and exchange between the two team leaders. Professor Xu has worked in Germany as a Alexander von Humboldt Foundation fellow, and Professor Verl is the first engineer to have received the New Zealand Royal Society's Julius von Haast Fellowship Award.

Dave Ferguson

New Zealand robotics and computer scientist who has been playing key roles in the technology behind the Mars rovers and research into driverless cars. Dave Ferguson got his PHD in computer and robotic science at Carnegie Melon University and is currently working for Google.

Udderly Robotic


Hinata, a farm worker from Brazil and Ryan Carr in front of three Lely Astronaut A3 milking robots at Stradbrook Robotic Dairy farm.

Cosmo Kentish-Barnes visits New Zealand's first commercial robotic dairy farm near Ashburton where cows milk themselves when they want to.


A close-up of a cow being milked by a robot.

Robotic Assistant

Robot group lowres

The fuel robot and friends, from left to right, Andrew Lewis, Chris Hann, Julian Pipe, Kirstin Middelkoop, Jermin Tiu, Duncan Scott and Samuel Sanson. Photo: RNZ/V Meduna.

A group of University of Canterbury mechatronics students and their supervisor Chris Hann, have designed a prototype for a robot that can refuel a car at the push of a button, allowing drivers to control everything from inside their car.

There have been some trials of automated fuel pumps in Europe, but this six-jointed industrial robotic arm can be fitted to an existing pump.

This video was produced by the group to demonstrate how the robot goes about its job.

Telepresence robots

Now you can log into a workplace robot from home and use a remote controller to whizz around bugging your work-mates. Steve Cousins the CEO of Willow Garage is using this technology today.

Cows in space

Lely Dairy Project Manager Christian Pearse-Danker talks about the Astronaut 3, a totally robotic milking machine.

Robotic Fruit Picker

Kiwifruit robot1

It can talk. It can pollinate. It has flashing blue lights, a number of emergency stop buttons and a not at all human-looking hand.

Weighing a ton and with myriad eyes (or cameras) to help it navigate, this kiwifruit picking robot is one of the most sophisticated fruit pickers in the world.

Amelia Nurse visits the robot at Massey University's School of Engineering and Advanced Technology and talks to Rory Flemmer about what this machine can do and the future of mechanised labour in New Zealand.

Soup-stirring Robot

Chris Melhuish from Bristol has been given a grant to create a robot that can work in a busy restaurant kitchen.

A Robotic Driver for Vehicles

Dean Williams visits the University of Auckland's Robotics and Intelligent Systems research laboratory.

Marvin, the Robot Security Guard (Science)

Dale Carnegie, at Victoria University, introduces Marvin, the not-so paranoid robot working as a security guard.

Rob by Toyota CC BY SA Chris

Robô by Toyota CC BY-SA 3.0 Chris 73.

Wind up tin robot toys CC BY SA D J Shin

Wind-up tin robot toys CC BY SA 3.0 D J Shin.

Shadow Dexterous Robot Hand holding a lightbulb CC BY SA Richard Greenhill and Hugo Elias

Shadow Dexterous Robot Hand holding a lightbulb CC BY-SA 3.0 Richard Greenhill and Hugo Elias.

Medical Robot Laparoscopic robotic surgery machine CC BY SA Nimur

Medical Robot Laparoscopic robotic surgery machine CC BY-SA 3.0 Nimur.

Military Robot Bio inspired Big Dog quadruped robot is being developed as a mule that can traverse difficult terrain PD BY Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA

Military Robot: bio-inspired Big Dog quadruped robot PD BY DARPA.