Robots could be picking fruit and doing other tasks in tomorrow's kiwifruit and apple orchards.
Scientists from Auckland and Waikato Universities as well as Plant and Food Research, and the Robotics Plus company, are collaborating on a four-year project to develop multi-purpose robotic technology for orchards.
Research leader Bruce MacDonald, a robotics specialist at Auckland University, says it will expand on a kiwifruit harvesting prototype which Alistair Scarfe of Robotics Plus devised as a PhD project.
"He's developed a very nice prototype that is able to go through an orchard and pick some kiwifruit, that uses a vision system to identify the kiwifruit and then picks them and puts them through a system where the fruit can be collected and it drives its way round the orchard.
"What we're going to do is extend that, so it can work under all the different kinds of conditions that can happen in an orchard ... so that the robot can navigate round a whole lot of different kinds of orchards and avoid obstacles and always find its way down the right path and so on."
Associate professor MacDonald says the orchard robot will be designed to do pollination and spraying work, as well as harvesting, using a $7.6 million grant from the Government's latest science funding round.