Robots to the rescue: $2m fund to help robots meet NZ’s economic needs

The Science for Technological Innovation (SfTI) National Science Challenge Board is providing $2m of funding for a project to develop adaptable, cheaply reconfigured, rapidly deployed ‘workforce’ robots able to learn from their environments.

SfTI said the project would take a long-term view and examine how robotics could provide solutions for New Zealand’s economic needs.

Specifically, the programme will look into automated and autonomous technologies for small scale, high value, production; delve into ‘learning’ robots; and look at how robots can operate in rugged outdoor environments.

“Researchers will seek to develop new paradigms in robot autonomy and adaptability, including predictive environmental sensor fusion, and automatic improvement of AI-based interpretation of data,” according to SfTI.

The research group will also investigate workforce robots that could ‘communicate’, learn, and collaboratively work alongside humans, and investigate ‘non-written cues’, and the use of icons to communicate and exchange information.

SfTI said the collaborative structure of the research project across academic, commercial and industrial manufacturing sectors would create a dynamic network of information and expertise that will generate new knowledge, skills and revenue.

“From a commercial perspective the primary sector, including agriculture, horticulture, aquaculture and forestry, will directly benefit from the introduction of highly adaptable robots. Robust robots can assist in pre- and post-harvest processes eg cropping, pruning, monitoring nutrients in run off and leaching, and manage environmental inputs like precision agriculture and nutrient management,” SfTI said.

The project will involve researchers from Lincoln Agritech and SCION, as well as Auckland, Victoria, Massey, Canterbury and Otago Universities.

SfTI Director, Sally Davenport, said: “this is a forward-looking project aimed at underpinning future small-scale production of tailored, high value robots with wide application and an eye on export.”

Davenport said the projects brought to seven the number of spearheads projects funded since the SfTI Challenge launched two years ago with a $32.9m budget. SfTI had also funded a further 28 smaller high-risk, potentially high reward, SEED research projects in that time.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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