IN AN incredible collaboration between the worlds of science and agriculture, 'Clive' the automated fruit harvester visited Griffith for some valuable onsite experience.
The team at Ripe Robotics have seen great success harvesting apples, and wanted to switch to oranges to provide themselves with an even bigger challenge.
"It can be difficult with citrus to navigate around the branches and the foliage, plus it's a much more difficult fruit to snap," engineer Hunter Jay said.
"But it's necessary for us to do citrus as well as apples and other fruit all on the same machine in order to make it commercially viable."
The Department of Primary Industries put Ripe Robotics in touch with growers from across the state in a bid to accelerate automated picking to an industry standard.
'Clive' aims to help overcome high labour costs, worker shortages and COVID-19 concerns, with his birth courtesy of Ripe Robotics searching for a modern application of machine learning and artificial intelligence.
"When we were looking for modern applications, one of the biggest neglected fields seemed to be agriculture," Mr Jay said.
"It was wild to me to think that people are still climbing up ladders and picking fruit one at a time."
The machine was first designed in March 2019. It saw its first outing in September, boasting the ability to pick an orange every three seconds.
The prototype can run in extreme weather during day and night, and can be easily transported to provide convenience for growers.
"Another big part of this is the potential this opens up," engineer Leopold Lucas explained.
"A big part of what we do is collect data on farms and present it to the farmers, enabling them to make meaningful choices.
"Data and analytics is going to be a core part of our business long-term and it's going to really change the way farmers do the work that they do."
Local citrus farmer, Vito Mancini, witnessed the automation achievement first-hand, saying that he believes robotics are the way of the farming future.
"Robotics are the game-changer for our industry," Mr Mancini said.
"Australia produces roughly 0.8 per cent of global citrus production and we're finding it really difficult to try and reign in our costs compared to our competitors.
"It also provides more reliability. The prune industry, onions, the wineries, they're all tapping into the same labour force and finding it increasingly difficult to find someone willing to stand in 40 degree sun harvesting fruit."
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