The world’s first research centre specialising in robotic vision is The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.
One of the Centre's projects sees Australian researchers giving robots the vision, understanding and hand eye co-ordination to help with labour shortages and sustainable food production.
This is because of the world's population projected to reach over nine billion by 2050, thus making sustainable food production "a significant challenge world-wide," with The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision stating it "has a solution".
Indeed, the centre believes its research will "revolutionise many industries and the latest project could solve labour shortages for farmers and help feed the world’s growing population".
Peter Corke, a roboticist and director of the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision said that robots "are a great way of filling this labour vacuum".
We're told that because labour can comprise up to 40% of a farm’s operational costs, "robots could also be a money-saving option for farmers".
Robotics researchers at the Centre have developed a robot called Harvey that can not only “see” ripe capsicums on the bush, but gently grab and harvest them – the video of this in action is embedded at the end of this article.
Given the size of the capsicum industry in Australia – the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the 2015 annual harvest at 43,000 tonnes – this is big news for Australian agriculture!
Here's Harvey, the robot capsicum (red pepper) harvester in action – article continues below:
To achieve the required level of hand-eye co-ordination, Harvey, which is essentially a robotic arm that trundles along on wheels, uses deep learning. On the end of its arm is a camera — its “eyes” — plus a suction cup and a stalk snipper. Its “brain” is a neural network, which was trained with thousands of images of capsicums and thousands of images of objects other than capsicums.
Harvey’s camera gives colour and 3D information. Even though they’re pretty much the same colour, “a green capsicum has a different shape to a green leaf, so we use the geometry of the object”, Corke says. Once a capsicum is spotted, the suction cup extends and grips the fruit.
Building on Harvey’s 90% success rate in initial trials, the centre has confirmed it will be designing and programming another robot for picking asparagus under the leadership of Australian Centre for Robotic Vision chief investigator Rob Mahony from Australian National University in Canberra.
Mahony said: "The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is excited to be building on the Harvey model to create an advanced asparagus picking robot. There are several challenges in developing and programming robots for farming. The robots must have the ability to see fruit, understand when it is ripe and of course be armed with the hand eye coordination to pick the fruit without damaging the produce.
“The asparagus picking robot will have a robotic arm for picking fruit and will use advanced 3D computer vision and deep learning to distinguish when and how the produce needs to be picked. We will be developing a neural network trained with thousands of images of asparagus and objects other than asparagus which will act as the robot’s brain helping analyse and understand what it sees.
“Labour can comprise of up to 40% of a farm’s operational costs. The new robots designed and programmed for fruit picking will be used to help with labour shortages and boost sustainable food production for our growing global population.”
You can see many more videos at the Centre's video page here.
So, what else should we know about The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision?
We're told that it has been funded "$25.6 million over seven years to form the largest collaborative group of its kind generating internationally impactful science and new technologies that will transform important Australian industries and provide solutions to some of the hard challenges facing Australia and the globe".
The organisation was formed in 2014, and as noted above is claimed as "the world’s first research centre specialising in robotic vision". The group of researchers are on a mission to give robots the ability to see and understand for the sustainable wellbeing of people and the environments we live in.
The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision has assembled an interdisciplinary research team from four leading Australian research universities – QUT, The University of Adelaide (UoA), The Australian National University (ANU), and Monash University as well as CSIRO’s Data61, and overseas universities and research organisations including INRIA Rennes Bretagne, Georgia Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, and the University of Oxford.