A new plug & play packing robot for fresh produce can help growers and packing houses solve some of their problems with the widespread labour shortage in Australian agriculture
Dr Juxi Leitner, managing director and co-founder of LYRO Robotics in Queensland, says there is ample interest in the intelligent robotic system. LYRO Robotics was started in 2019, as a spin-out of the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.
LYRO packing robot
The company has recently presented the new packing robot as its first commercial product. “We‘ve been working on this product for about 15 months”, Leitner explains. “We have no name for it at this point in time, so for now we just call it the LYRO packing robot.”
The packing robot has a plug & play design, which means it can be installed in less than one hour. “It is a robotic system that can deal with uncertainty”, Juxi says. “We just roll it in at farms or packing houses and fit it in existing operations. With a conveyor belt for example, the belt goes through the system and we start picking fruit or vegetables and place them down in cardboard boxes.”
A learning process
Leitner emphasises that the artificial intelligence of the robot makes it highly adaptive and flexible. “It has an understanding of the world around it. The vision system helps to make decisions. If you‘re packing avocados, you just instruct the robot the number you want packed per box. That is basically all you have to do. The robot then keeps on working until you turn it off.”
The founder of LYRO says that the new post-harvest robot is the only one of its kind. A simple user interface makes it easy to instruct the system for the operators.
“There’s a few robots that are specialised in one specific fruit. They can fill a sack of oranges for example. But we are not aware of another robotic system that adapts to more than one type of produce and can so easily be installed”, Leitner says.
The artificial intelligence behind LYRO’s technology involves a decision making process and a learning process to improve the throughput of produce, using algorithms. “The robot has to make a decision of how to pick up the fruit and how to place it”, Leitner says. “It used to be a problem that some products don’t look alike, as is the case with sweet potatoes for example. There was no model because they can look so different. With our AI system that is no longer a problem. It knows what to look for and how to adapt to that. And because of the algorithm the system will keep improving anytime it sees a new object.”
Packing robot can handle most fruits
The packing robot can handle most fruits and quite a few vegetables, Leitner says. “So far we have packed mangos, melons, citrus fruit, avocados, apples, bell peppers, capsicum, sweet potatoes and punnets of mushroom and tomatoes, nectarines and other stone fruit. All in commercial settings. The system can pick up products from just a few grams up to 3 or 4 kilograms.”
The fresh produce can be placed in boxes, but also in sacks or punnets. Leitner: “As long as there is an opening, we can place it in there. But with sacks, the focus is usually on weight, and there are other solutions for that in the market. You don’t have to make a decision about placing the produce.”
Source: Future Farming