En­ter the age of ro­bots

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - LOOKING BACK - Leanne Oliveri

FORMER Pre­mier Camp­bell New­man can see a time in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture when ro­bots will be used to stalk and kill weeds on farms across the North.

He vi­su­alises a fu­ture when light­weight, au­to­mated ro­bots are do­ing every­thing from plant­ing seeds to fer­til­is­ing crops, spot-spray­ing weeds, killing bugs and even har­vest­ing fruit and veges.

“Ro­bots have the po­ten­tial to com­pletely change the way that we farm and the way we grow all sorts of crops, whether that’s grain, vine­yards, or­chards or sugar cane,” he said.

“This sort of tech­nol­ogy will give us the op­por­tu­nity to very sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease pro­duc­tion. It will re­duce the use of chem­i­cals such as her­bi­cides and pes­ti­cides and fer­tilis­ers be­cause you can more pre­cisely place the chem­i­cals where they’re needed to do the job.”

He’s speak­ing as chair­man of Queens­land start-up Swar­mFarm Ro­bot­ics, a post he took up a few months af­ter his party was swept from of­fice in the Jan­uary 31 elec­tion.

Mr New­man’s pas­sion for this Star Wars type tech­nol­ogy is clear. So is his res­o­lute­ness that his po­lit­i­cal life is well and truly over. He’ll tell you straight up he’s much hap­pier chan­nelling his in­ner geek.

Mr New­man will be in Townsville on Novem­ber 19 to ad­dress the Redefin­ing Townsville fo­rum, a de­bate se­ries be­ing run by the

in con­junc­tion with JCU to un­lock the po­ten­tial of this re­gion.

His mes­sage will be sim­ple: Ag ro­bots are a re­al­ity, they work and they’re likely to be crawl­ing around a cane farm near you within a few years.

“Our vi­sion is that in five years’ time, farm­ers in cane will be us­ing th­ese ro­bots to do a mul­ti­tude of tasks ... We think we can give cane farm­ers the abil­ity to be more ef­fi­cient, vi­able, make more money and re­duce im­pacts on the en­vi­ron­ment.”

He said Swar­mFarm was cur­rently com­mis­sion­ing its third pro­to­type robot and planned to start com­mer­cial tri­als on grain farms around Emer­ald in Cen­tral Queens­land early next year.

“You will see a fleet of three to six ro­bots work­ing to­gether com­pletely au­tonomously, go­ing for about 50 hours with­out hu­man in­ter­ven­tion, do­ing jobs in pad­docks in Queens­land,” he said.

“We in­tend to ap­proach farm­ers who are in­ter­ested in this new tech­nol­ogy and say ‘let us come along and un­der­take weed con­trol on your farm un­der con­tract’. We will come in, set up the ro­bots and they’ll find weeds and spray them.”

Asked if North Queens­land farm­ers were ready for this sort of tech­nol­ogy, Mr Camp­bell said: “Farm­ers will be un­der­stand­ably and jus­ti­fi­ably scep­ti­cal be­cause they see peo­ple ped­dling new ideas and tech­nol­ogy all the time and a heck of a lot of it doesn’t work.

“They have to be con­vinced and that’s why we’re do­ing the tri­als in this way.”

The Redefin­ing Townsville – Dig­i­tal Townsville event will be at the Townsville Civic Theatre on Novem­ber 19.

A Swar­mFarm Ro­bot­ics ma­chine . . . com­mer­cial tri­als start early next year

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