The digital age has only just begun for the fresh produce industry. Fresh produce has been a global business for a long time, but a very opaque one. Even some production and export data used to be hard to get – and often not fully reliable. But change is coming fast: The mere possibility of tracing any cherry, orange or banana back to its its container, truck, every cold store, to its tree and the harvesting personnel is a great temptation. It can help save money on production, crop protection, transport and storage and it can help retailers and insurance companies understand quality and quality issues better. While not publicly announced a European sorting machine manufacturer already confirmed that it is possible to identify and re-identify every fruit that has passed the optical scanner. This means total traceability. Every product will have an identity in the near future – from the tree to the kitchen table. This data can be stored, transferred and merged with other data sets from drones, picking robots and other scanners and cameras. Sounds futuristic? Of course. But the technology is available and it might come very fast.
In our interview Professor Salah Sukkarieh provides a very interesting outlook on the potential for big data in the fresh produce industry:
- What is the current status of big data in fresh produce?
- Where can data be obtained?
- Who will benefit from big data?
Sukkarieh is an international expert in the research, development and commercialisation of field robotic systems. He has led a number of robotics and intelligent systems R&D projects in logistics, commercial aviation, aerospace, education, environment monitoring, agriculture and mining, and has consulted to industry including Rio Tinto, BHP, Patrick Stevedores, Qantas, BAE Systems, QLD Biosecurity, Meat and Livestock Australia, and the NSW DPI amongst others. In 2014 he was awarded the NSW Science and Engineering Award for Excellence in Engineering and Information and Communications Technologies.
Robotics is a field that has captured the public imagination, with numerous books, films and television programs featuring improbably intelligent machines with seemingly unlikely capabilities. Professor Salah Sukkarieh’s research into robotics and intelligent systems is the real thing, and it’s not too far from those products of our collective imagination.
“My work involves developing robotic devices and intelligent systems that can operate 24/7 in outdoor environments. These are devices that can perceive and understand their environment, make informed decisions about any actions required and then carry out those actions – all without direct human input. For example, my colleagues and I have already developed an automated berth in Brisbane where ships are loaded and unloaded by robotic devices without direct human involvement. We’re also working with Rio Tinto on establishing an autonomous mine operation in the Pilbara region of Western Australia; we’ve developed pilotless robotic aircraft that can detect and spray invasive weeds in remote locations; and we’re currently working on autonomous devices that will perform many of the manual tasks involved in large-scale agricultural production.”
The Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) is based in the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at The University of Sydney, and is dedicated to the research, development, application and dissemination of autonomous and intelligent robots and systems for operation in outdoor environments. The ACFR is one of the largest robotics research institutes in the world and has been instrumental in developing breakthrough technologies and in conducting world-leading research and development of field robotics principles and systems. The ACFR has partnered with major national and international agencies in academia, government and industry, and has established a number of leading research centres funded by the Australian Research Council, mining, security and defence, and environmental agencies. The group has substantial experimental facilities including three laboratories and a field test site, a range of experimental and production vehicles, industry-quality mechanical and electrical design and fabrication facilities, and employs the latest in embedded computing, sensing and control technologies.
The School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at the University of Sydney is one of Australia’s premier Engineering schools. It runs extremely successful undergraduate, postgraduate and research programs. The school is a major component of the Engineering and IT Faculty at the University of Sydney. Ranked number one in NSW (AEN rankings) and 3rd in Australia, the University of Sydney is a world leader in Teaching and Research.
Our academic staff are involved in research areas including Biomaterials & Biomechanics, Combustion, Design Optimisation, Energy Production, Field Robotics, Fluid Dynamics, Materials & Manufacturing, Navigation & Control, Rheology, Smart Structures, Thermofluids and UAV Flight Systems. Staff are highly successful in obtaining ARC research funding and external competitive grants with industry. The school offers a broad range of undergraduate and postgraduate programs covering Aeronautical and Space Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronic Engineering. There is the flexibility to combine undergraduate degrees with Commerce, Science, Arts, Law, Medical Science, Music and Project Management. Postgraduate degrees can be taken either at the coursework level or as higher level research degrees MPhil and PhD.