UNSW mechatronics researchers behind a robotic tractor and seeding machine have been named as finalists in The Australian Innovation Challenge.
Winners of the challenge, which is in its fourth year, will be announced on 26 November.
UNSW’s researchers are vying for $5000 in prize money in the ‘Environment, Agriculture and Food’ category with their SmartSeeder invention.
Developed in partnership with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the SmartSeeder increases agricultural productivity and improves yields by enabling more land to be cropped.
Associate Professor Jay Katupitiya from the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering said the Challenge is valuable recognition of the team’s investment in creating a commercial-ready agricultural robotics product.
He believed such recognition could help attract collaborators or commercial partners.
UNSW's commercialisation company NewSouth Innovations (NSi), together with GRDC, are exploring commercialisation opportunities. Both hold provisional patents over the technology.
“There is very high demand worldwide for this type of technology,” Katupitiya said.
The researchers are also continuing to enhance the robotic tractor’s underlying systems.
“We are in the process of developing better control systems to increase SmartSeeder’s speed of operation,” Katupitiya said.
“We are also developing better user interfaces for web-based management of fleets of these vehicles”.
The research team has previously been shortlisted for a Eureka Prize, known as the ‘Oscars of Australian Science’.
This latest accolade underscores UNSW Faculty of Engineering’s strength in robotics. Last month, student teams took first and second place in an agricultural robotics competition run by NI. In July, the UNSW robot football team, rUNSWift, became world champions at RoboCup 2014 in Brazil.
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