Robinson’s robotics team is helping develop highly adaptable and robust robots for use in New Zealand’s rugged outdoor environments.

Dr Fiona Stevens McFadden with a short, grey bob, a blue shirt and a patterned skirt in a workshop.
Dr Fiona Stevens McFadden, Robotics team leader.

As part of the ‘Adaptive Learning Robots to Complement the Human Workforce’ project, funded by the Science for Technological Innovation (SfTI) National Science Challenge Board, Robinson Research Institute is working to develop automated and autonomous technologies for use in rugged outdoor environments. New Zealand's primary sector, including agriculture, horticulture, aquaculture, and forestry, will directly benefit from the introduction of highly adaptable and robust robots. Robust robots can assist in pre- and post-harvest processes, improve workplace safety, and manage environmental inputs like precision agriculture and nutrient management.

Robinson Research Institute will contribute to the project through its work to improve field robots' ability to perceive hazards and analyse risks in tough, highly variable, unstructured environments. This would help robots to prevent human injuries and reduce the risk of damage to robots, other equipment, and the environment. Robinson will lead the development of a conceptual model and range of sensors for the robots' perception and interpretation system. We will also contribute to work on methods for sensor data-fusion for perception.

Our current robotics research centres on two specific project use cases, a 3D print-based manufacturing facility example, and a forestry example. Forestry is one of New Zealand's most dangerous industries, with ACC claims from forestry workers costing $8 million per annum, making safety precautions in this environment particularly important.

Our in-house expertise in sensor development and application, signal processing, data analysis, and modelling for decision making, control, and optimisation means that we are well positioned to contribute to the development of robotic systems for complex environments. In addition, the Institute's background in industry-focused research and technology development has given us the experience necessary to undertake a long-term project such as this one.