Little farm robot is attracting plenty of attention

Little farm robot is attracting plenty of attention

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The Victorian government is the latest to invest in the autonomous farm robot. Picture: University of Sydney.

The Victorian government is the latest to invest in the autonomous farm robot. Picture: University of Sydney.

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A cheap, little Australian designed farm robot on wheels is moving closer to commercial release.

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A cheap, little Australian designed farm robot on wheels is moving closer to commercial release.

The University of Sydney's "drone on wheels" has already been trialled in NSW and this week the Victorian government announced its own tests.

Originally designed in 2016 as a remote control aid for small farmers, the latest "Digital Farmhand" is now autonomous.

Designed to be durable and low-cost, the "Dragon" helps row and tree crop farmers by checking plant growth and weeding at the same time.

It can measure the individual growth rate of a plant, while weed identification tools on the platform also allowed the bots to carry out both mechanical and chemical weed control around the plants.

It now has the ability to avoid wandering livestock.

The Victorian government has this week provided $300,000 for a pilot program at its Mildura SuniTAFE SMART farm to buy one of the units to "help explore tech-based agriculture".

There are already three others being tested in Victoria.

The University of Sydney received $6.5 million in 2019 for its Centre for Field Robotics and Agerris from the research commercialisation fund, Uniseed, to launch the program.

The Farmhand robot is expected to be available cheaply to help smallholder row and tree crop farmers to better manage yields and crop health, including wine and table grapes, fruit, nuts and olives.

Its designers have a future eye on rolling out this technology in developing nations.

SuniTAFE chief executive officer Geoff Dea said: "This pilot program will drive the future of farming not just in Victoria but around the world - and it's exciting that SuniTAFE is at the forefront of that innovation."

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