Case study: Robotics Plus
Robotics Plus Ltd (RPL) is developing mechanisation, automation, robotic and sensor technologies for horticulture and other primary industries to achieve new levels of productivity.
In what some have called the "packhouse of the future", RPL's Robotic Apple Packer arranges fruit on trays for the best visual appeal, and proprietary algorithms co-ordinate the activity of several robotic arms, packing 120 apples a minute.
The apple packer replaces the cost of up to three people per machine, with RPL operating a lease model that allows growers and packhouses to adopt the technology at the same basic cost as the labour it replaces.
"The key current challenge in New Zealand is around access to labour," says Tina Jennen, chief executive of Robotics Plus' parent company PlusGroup Horticulture. She says"much of the labour needed for peak seasons must be imported each year, and this comes at a significant cost".
Another innovation, the QuadDuster assistive pollination system, was commercialised for RPL's sister company Pollen Plus.
Computer-controlled pollen dispensing and speed control on all-terrain vehicles ensures uniform pollen coverage, while a GPS system provides a map of pollination for growers. This service covers about 25 per cent of the New Zealand kiwifruit industry each year.
RPL has used New Zealand's agriculture industry as an incubator to develop its technology, but the company has begun to attract attention from other industries with scalability, labour, waste, hygiene, traceability and security challenges.
The Silicon Valley innovation mission emphasised to Jennen that New Zealand is advanced in the technology it can offer the agricultural sector, and is a great agritech R&D hub for other markets. For Robotics Plus, the intellectual property they create here will be well-placed to springboard the company into labour intensive value chains around the world.