Brisbane-based robotics company Lyro Robotics has successfully deployed its robots and world-leading picking and packing technology in commercial trials held at the avocado facility, Sunnyspot Packhouse, in Ravensbourne, Queensland.
Summer harvest looms, and so does a widespread labour shortage for much of Australia’s horticulture industry. The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) indicated in September the country’s fruit and vegetable industry was facing a workforce shortage of up to 26,000 people throughout the peak summer season. This figure was reached by Ernst & Young.
This is where robotics technology, such as Lyro Robotics, could provide solutions assisting farmers with seasonal and short-term farm work.
Jürgen Leitner, managing director and co-founder of Lyro Robotics, said the company wants to help provide robotic solutions that can help solve labour shortages now and into the future.
“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,” said Leitner.
“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 enables 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 visited Sunnyspot Packhouse on two occasions in the last five months to deploy its robots and picking and packing technology. The robots work by combining 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, director of Sunnyspot Packhouse and Sunnyspot Farms in Ravensbourne, 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-19 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 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,” he said.
Leitner highlighted his team has spent a decade researching robotic vision, machine learning, and robotic grasping, making this project a rewarding achievement.
“Even though in this case we were packing avocados, the technology behind it is not limited to specific produce or a 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, warehousing 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,” he added.
Leitner also praised the federal government’s 2020/21 federal budget, which has added further support to the country’s manufacturing industry, where advanced and intelligent robots are seeing an annual growth rate of 46 per cent.
“Our Lyro Machine Intelligence solutions are part of this progress as it enables any robot to execute tasks intelligently. In fact, our vision is to have more than 100,000 robots out there by 2030 performing dirty, dull and dangerous manual tasks,” he said.
Lyro received an initial 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.