Le 24/11/2020

Australian Market of Agricultural Robotics: The Autonomy Code of Practice, Issues and Needs of Australian Farmers - PART 1

The Society of Precision Agriculture Australia (SPAA) is a not for profit, national organisation, committed to the dissemination of Precision Agriculture information. The needs of Australia’s farmers are consistently surveyed and considered by SPAA to ensure that the research and advisory space are in touch with the needs of the growers at the coal face. SPAA is a trusted, independant organisation, and is known for providing relevant and timely information to the grains, sugarcane, cotton, horticulture, viticulture and livestock industries.

SPAA has two specialist staff that assist the committee, which is made up of 16 farmers, advisors and researchers from across states and territories of Australia representing a plethora of agricultural industries. Since 2002, SPAA has played a pivotal role in providing a conduit for PA adoption through facilitated initiatives that connect growers to a wide network of industry stakeholders. Australia was the first in the world to develop autosteer and SPAA played an important role in the early adoption of this technology. Australia has also led the way in camera spot spray technology with new autonomous robot weed control protypes recently being trialled and tested under Australian conditions. Over a decade of reseach was committed to the vegetable industry and more recently we are now exploring the uses of robotics in animal health and welfare.

RDC investment in robotics

Agricultural industries have a sustained commitment to innovation, with government and industry maintaining a partnership for prioritising and investing in R&D through 15 different agricultural industry Rural Research Development Corporations (RDCs) which delivers real impacts for both industry and the community.

These RDCs are an industry-innovation program, and a significant source of publically available funds for research and development. Funded by industry and government, RDCs deliver real benefits and real impacts through rapid adoption of research outcomes for producers. Australia is a world leader in water efficient crop, meat and fibre production, grading systems, food safety and traceability, and the management of pests, weeds and diseases. These results are directly attributable to our investments in RDC R&D.

We are now investing in the future, with advances in robotics, data and sensing. Some of our stakeholders leading the way in robotics and automation are; CSIRO Robotics and Autonomous Systems group; Australian Centre for Field Roboticsand the Future Dairy (University of Sydney); Queensland University of TechnologyCentre for Robotics; University of Southern Queensland Centre for Agricultural Engineering, University of NSW Mechatronics (Smart Robotic Viticulture) along with thier partner affiliates.

The grains industry to lead the way in regulation - SPAA’s involvement in Robotics and Autonomy

In 2019, Grain Producers Australia agreed to proceed with developing a ‘Code of Practice’ (COP) for Agricultural Field Machine Autonomy. The aim of devloping the document was to better support the commercial introduction of autonomous tractors and machinery into Australian field based plant industries. With semi autonomous and autonomous machinery becoming a reality in the Australian agriculture landscape, there comes an inherant risk.

A COP has been developed through a collaborated effort involving Grain Producers Australia (GPA), Tractor and Machinery Association of Australia (TMA - including members John Deere, CNH, AGCO, Kubota and Nufarm, Croplands) and us, the Society of Precision Agriculture Australia. Craig Baillie, Professor at the University of Southern Queensland said ‘the Code of Practice will be a living, public document, we want it to be inclusive, and we want input from a large cross-section of the agricultural industry as this document is for them’.

The Code of Practice will assist those involved with the use of mobile machinery with autonomous functions (including semi-autonomous where automated machine functions operate in autonomous mode) used in agricultural field operations to meet their legislative obligations for health and safety under the Safe Work Australia Model Work Health and Safety laws. When complete, it will be the first Code of Practice of its type in the world.

The Code of Practice development committee, led by Consultant Advisor to GPA Dr Rohan Rainbow, is currently seeking industry stakeholder feedback to finalise the document ready for further Australian Government consultation by December 2020. Dr Rainbow who is also a SPAA committee member said ‘we are confident this document will help propel the next wave of technology uptake in Australia, being agricultural autonomy and robotics. Feedback from machinery manufacturers has been very positive in facilitating an accelerated rollout of autonomous equipment based on this Code of Practice document’.

Rohan Rainbow speaking at FIRA 2019

Australia’s investment in RDC’s encompasses robotics and autonomy systems in many facets of the agricultural industry, below we will learn more about developments specifically in the horticulture and dairy industries.

Next month, don't miss 3 Case Studies from Australian farmers and their experiments of robots!

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