AI-powered picking and packing robots assist farmers with unforeseen labour shortages
April 12, 2021
Brisbane based robotics company LYRO Robotics has successfully deployed their robots and world leading picking and packing technology in commercial trials at the avocado facility Sunnyspot Packhouse in Ravensbourne, Queensland.
Robotics technology is one of the solutions assisting farmers with seasonal and short-term farm work as COVID-19 restrictions impact inflow of backpackers and seasonal labour movement across Australian borders.
A study by Ernst & Young for Horticulture Innovation Australia released in September 2020, reports the gap between demand and supply of casual labour will result in up to 26,000 positions going unfilled in horticulture over the next nine months.
Dr Jürgen ‘Juxi’ Leitner, Managing Director and Co-founder of LYRO Robotics said they provide robotic solutions that can help solve this problem. “The future of robotics is bright, specifically in agriculture where there are a lot of dirty, dull and dangerous jobs – which we usually refer to 3Ds in robotics.
“Another big advantage of robots is that they can work day or night, don’t need breaks, can work long hours and automate repetitive tasks. Robotics enable people to be up-skilled in technology, and at the same time they can carry out jobs that humans won’t or are unable to perform.”
LYRO, who pride themselves on “creating robots that work”, have visited Sunnyspot Packhouse on two occasions in the last 5 months to deploy their robots and picking and packing technology.
Their robots combine computer vision with machine learning and robotic grasping which sees an avocado coming down the line, makes a decision on how to grasp the fruit correctly, picks it up and places it perfectly into the cardboard box.
Daryl Boardman, the Director of Sunnyspot Packhouse and Sunnyspot Farms in Ravensbourne who has established the business with his wife Sally 21 years ago, said they haven’t had major issues with labour hire in the last decade, however disruptions this year have changed that.
“We are pretty concerned for the next season as the COVID pandemic has affected the influx of additional labour from overseas, so more automation is needed in our business to adapt to these and any unforeseen staff changes,” said Mr Boardman.
“I am a hands-on farmer but I am open to technology, and embrace technology trials to ensure our business keeps moving forward.
“LYRO’s team were keen to listen and adapt the software and robot parts to make them work in our shed. They will continually tweak the software and teach it what to do, and we’re happy to have them trial their systems again next year.
“Whilst speed and accuracy of the human workforce is essential to our business, LYRO’s robotics when working 24/7 can certainly complement our operations and keep up with our packing demands as the business evolves.”
Dr Leitner said his team have spent a decade researching into robotic vision, machine learning, and robotic grasping, so to witness the excitement of it working and being useful to businesses makes it all worthwhile.
“Even though in this case we were packing avocados, the technology behind it is not limited to a specific produce or specific item – we can pack avocados today, mangoes tomorrow and pharmaceutical items next week.
“The LYRO Machine Intelligence is a deep learning AI software system that integrates the brain, the eyes and the hands, enabling any robot to pick and pack any item, even if it has not seen it before.
“Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have experienced a steep increase in commercial interest for robotic solutions in food, e-commerce, warehouse and supply chain industries.
“Our innovative robots and software can work inline with existing factory operations and automated systems across agriculture, horticulture, retail, logistics, warehousing as well as waste management sectors for picking, packing, and sorting to be all done contact free.
“We are very excited to see a focus in the Federal Budget 2020-21 on manufacturing, where advanced and intelligent robots are seeing an annual growth rate of 46%. And the LYRO Machine Intelligence is part of this progress as it enables robots to execute intelligent tasks.
“In fact our vision is to have 100,000 robots out there by 2030 performing dirty, dull and dangerous manual tasks,” said Dr Leitner.
As an ambitious Aussie start-up, LYRO has come a long way in their first year after receiving their seed funding injection from Japan’s Toyo Kanetsu Corporate Venture Fund II
The team is now finalising a round of venture capital to commercialise its picking and packing system with LYRO Machine Intelligence software. They have commercial partnerships already in progress, and 5 project proposals ready to go once more funding is secured.
All interested parties are encouraged to LYRO Robotics direct for further details on its capital raising plans, in-depth company overview and how it might work for your business