Au’s Intelligent Farm Robots, a World’s First

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By Athena Yenko | July 2, 2014 2:14 PM EST

The Australian intelligent farm robot, Ladybird, become the first of its kind in the world as it was unveiled on June 25.

University of Sydney robotics expert Professor Salah Sukkarieh, together with a team of scientists, invented the intelligent farm robot Ladybird, aiming to advance the agricultural robotics technology.

The Ladybird was designed with key features of field robotics, namely sensory technology, materials development and complex autonomous mechanisms. The Ladybird thereby shall minimise input, but maximise output of future agriculture.

"Ladybird focuses on broad acre agriculture and is solar-electric powered. It has an array of sensors for detecting vegetable growth and pest species, either plant or animal. She also has a robotic arm for the purposes of removing weeds as well as the potential for autonomous harvesting," Sukkarieh said in a statement.

Ladybird was successfully tested in a farm in Cowra.

"The robot was able to drive fully autonomously up and down rows and from one row to the next, while gathering sensor data. Sensors include lasers, cameras and hyper spectra cameras. Part of our research program is to find new ways to provide valuable information to growers about the state of their paddocks," Sukkarieh said as he received his award as Researcher of the Year from the Australian Vegetable Industry.

Dr James Underwood, a senior research fellow from the university's Australian Centre for Field Robotics, developed the sensors for the Ladybird. He said that the robot's prototype cost approximately $1 million for a whole year of scientific development.

"We've given it that name because it looks a little bit like one [a ladybird beetle], it has red covers with black spots from the solar panels. It's a solar powered, electric driven robot, with a variety of different sensors that we think are going to be useful for precision agriculture into the future," Underwood told ABC.

Ed Fagan, who owns the farm in Cowra where Ladybird was first tested, said Ladybird will be very useful for farmers.

"A lot of the time in horticulture, if you're short of an element in the plant, by the time you see a symptom it's too late, they will be able to pick up a nutrient deficiency before we see any symptoms. Secondly, you can use it at night at 2 o'clock in the morning and go out and do an insect survey, so things like cutworm popping out at night time, slugs, worms, things like that," Fagan said fondly.

 "Instead of getting out of bed at 3 o'clock in the morning and wandering around with a torch and looking at about five square metres, this thing could do two or three hectares at night and then in the morning you can just see what you've got," Fagan shared.

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