An autonomous robotic scarecrow named Avvy is being tested in cherry orchards for the first time this year.
Founder of Autonabit Josh McCulloch said the robot is needed because birds cause extensive damage in orchards every season, affecting fruit quality.
Cherries damaged by birds are not exported, and damaged fruit could mean the difference between $60/kg for an export product and $15/kg for locally sold product, he said.
“It’s the difference between good profits and maybe breaking even.”
The robot was tested in vineyards last year, with trials in cherry orchards just being completed in Marlborough and Alexandra.
The robot began partly as a hobby for McCulloch and from research into robotic use in viticulture when he was employed by the University of Canterbury.
“At the moment we’re just using the robots for bird scaring, but we’re hoping that over the next few years they might be able to take on additional roles. We’re interested in undervine management, particularly for organic vineyard operators because they can’t use sprays. A robot can mow or cultivate,” he said.
The vehicle is fully electric and autonomously returns to a station for recharging after it’s completed a day’s work. It then goes out again the next day.
Avvy uses a gas gun, or banger, kites, flags, sirens and speakers to scare birds.
All the operators who have tested it in cherry orchards this season wanted more units next season, McCulloch said.
Robots are run from a desktop dashboard that is also phone compatible.
The dashboard shows a map of a farm and shows where the robots are operating, and has a live feed.
The dashboard is also used to deploy robots on “new missions” and to schedule time and locations for them to operate.
This year four robots were used in a 40 hectare block, but usually one is deployed for every 4ha.
“We’re still trying to nail down the ratio,” he said.
The robots have been tested at 8km per hour autonomously, but usually operate at 5km/h long term. The aim is for 10km/h, he said.
GPS and sensors are used to navigate.
The units are leased but will be for sale in future, McCulloch said.
Avvy did unpaid trials last season but will be taking on paid trials in Marlborough in February.