2018 MBIE Endeavour Research Programmes – Funding Success!
The CARES team led by Professor Bruce MacDonald and associate investigators from University of Auckland, Lincoln Agritech, University of Waikato, University of Canterbury, Plant and Food Research and University of Otago, have been awarded over $16million in funding to undertake an ambitious interdisciplinary project “Data informed decision making and automation in orchards and vineyards”
This five year programme of work involves close industry collaboration, aiming to transform the horticulture industry to potentially bring enormous benefits to Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Our goal is to reduce the variability of human worker performance in orchards and vineyards, using augmented reality technology to help inexpert workers make expert decisions, and reduce the risk associated with a transient workforce, using robotic automation. We will create new technologies that capture and convert data about plant structure, and the activities of expert humans, into smart decisions and actions in fruit growing e.g which grape vine to prune and how much to remove. We will use Artificial Intelligence to interpret data and then identify and communicate actions to less experienced humans and to automated robots. Horticulture industries suffer from high labour costs and increasing shortages of skilled labour, which reduce productivity and quality of crops. Our new technologies will assist fruit growing operations, and help NZ companies to generate premium horticultural products for the global market. Our research will be co-developed with NZ grower organisations, individual growers, including Māori fruit crop companies, and NZ agricultural machinery manufacturers. We will use apple thinning, grape pruning, and new blueberry variety harvesting as case studies. Our programme will deliver a suite of human-assist and automation technologies demonstrated for specific tasks and adaptable to other fruit growing operations. The use of field data for decision making and integration into operations will transform horticulture into a data-enabled industry – changing the focus from manual labour to transferable expert knowledge and skills.