• An illustration of the robotic prototype solution for banana de-handing. 
Image: Hort Innovation
    An illustration of the robotic prototype solution for banana de-handing. Image: Hort Innovation

A $2 million project delivered by Hort Innovation and led by Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Future Food Systems, the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Hub and BNL Industrial Solutions, will use computer vision and machine learning technologies to create a commercially available robotic solution for banana ‘de-handing’.

Banana de-handing is the process of separating the banana fruit from the stalk and it is a repetitive and physically demanding activity that if automated, could improve processing efficiencies and provide a valuable integration point for robotics systems.

Scientists in the project are researching and developing a prototype robot arm that will automate the repetitive and intensive de-handing stage in banana processing, resukting in significant efficiencies for the  industry.

Hort Innovation CEO Brett Fifield said investing in emerging technology to make production easier was a key priority.

“Workforce challenges, supply chain issues, and disease threats all contribute to the need to find innovative production approaches.

“If successful, this type of technology could also be applied to other crop-types to support Aussie fruit and vegetable supply,” Fifield said.

QUT lead researcher Dr Chris Lehnert said commercialisation is the goal.

“Over the next two years we will build the prototype robot for banana de-handing and then integrate that robot with a vision system that allows it to ‘see’ what actions it needs to perform.

“The prototype will then be trialled at the ARM Hub’s testing facility where we will conduct further testing and allow growers and potential investors to come and see it action,” Lehnert said.

Australian Banana Growers’ Council CEO Leanne Erakovic said the banana industry was keeping a close eye on the project, as there is currently no commercially available solution for the banana industry.

“Banana de-handing is a core process in all banana packing sheds, so any efficiencies that could be realised through the use of robotic technology would likely have a significant impact on growers’ processing costs. A win-win for our industry and for consumers.

“This technology has great potential to fulfil a task that is notoriously hard to resource, as it requires time and specific skills. On top of that, it could reduce manual handling fatigue and won’t impact overall job availability on-farm,” said Erakovic.

Bananas are one of Australia’s most popular fruits, with 91 per cent of Australian households buying bananas in 2022/23 according to Hort Innovation’s recently released 2022/23 Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook. On average, each Australia consumes 14.2 kilograms each year.

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