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Source: University of Waikato

A leading apple fruitlet thinning automation expert has been appointed chairperson for a national robotics group.

Shen Hin Lim, a Senior Lecturer in the University of Waikato’s School of Engineering, is the new chair for New Zealand Robotics, Automation and Sensing (NZRAS) group.

The national body is a network of researchers, engineers and technologists connecting researchers with industry.

“This organisation represents academics and links with industry to come up with some commercialisation,” says Dr Hin, who was previously secretary of NZRAS.

“We are actually trying to solve real problems within industry.”

NZRAS aims to foster and build collaborations, partnerships and networking opportunities and create a focal point for researchers and industry. It represents ten tertiary organisations and science and research-based organisations in New Zealand.

Increasing apple yields with robotic harvester

Dr Hin leads the project to develop a highly innovative apple fruitlet thinning device, where good and efficient thinning process is crucial to increase and maintain high apple yields.

The apple fruitlet thinning device is developed using a smart mechanical design concept to cut unwanted apple fruitlets from apple trees.

New Zealand’s apple industry is expected to be a billion-dollar industry by 2022, and a major export earner.

In a highly innovative industry, growers are constantly looking for new ways to improve their thinning and harvesting practices.

Robotics can also help the industry deal with labour shortages, as is currently the case due to the global pandemic and close borders causing a seasonal worker shortage.

The work is being done by PhD researcher Rahul Jangali, supervised by Dr Shen Hin Lim, Professor Mike Duke and Dr Ben McGuinness.

The group carried out trials on orchards in Nelson in December, working alongside apple growers.

This work is part of a five-year project led by the University of Auckland, which was awarded $17 million in 2018 through the MBIE Endeavour Fund.