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New research institute to focus on using AI for horticulture

A new research institute in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty will pool common expertise and apply artificial intelligence (AI) to solving industry challenges.

As reported, PlantTech is a Regional Research Institute (RRI) charged with accelerating innovation in New Zealand’s premium crop growing environments.

This will be achieved through the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

What is PlantTech?

It was established with the help of a NZ$ 8.4 million investment from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Moreover, it is a partnership between Western Bay of Plenty economic development agency Priority One, the University of Waikato, and eight local horticulture sector companies.

The research institute will use the region’s leading industries such as kiwifruit and avocado as a testing ground for the innovations.

It is a three-way venture between business, academia and the government, a form of research institute that is common in Europe and North America but new to New Zealand.

The ultimate aim is to develop horticultural technologies that can be commercialised both nationally and globally.

How can AI help?

There has been a lot of work done on AI in areas such as self-driving cars. However, that is a very different environment from plant-based growing systems.

AI has the potential to add a great deal and can cover a range of things.

For instance, it can provide better techniques for identifying buds, flowers, and fruit in the orchard. It can also give better automated counts as well as give improved predictions of what the yield should be.

Moreover, AI can be used to better identify the early stages of a disease outbreak.

This will help a grower assess the risk in a particular area or greenhouse and focus disease management techniques there.

It is hoped that their research will lead to new products and services in markets as diverse as sports fields, hydroponics and primary land use.

Another big part of its effort is in setting up the right processes and structures to capture the intellectual property (IP) being created.

Advantages and benefits

The Managing Director and Founder of one of the founding companies explained that the advantage of PlantTech is that it can bring together the underpinning skills, data and functionality required to deliver these new technologies.

Some of the digital technologies now in use in agriculture and crop production have not yet been applied in horticulture, and it is requiring new thinking.

PlantTech is about proving that they can all work together with other like-minded companies, which are seeking these types of solutions and collaborate to make research easier.

The eight local horticulture sector companies are:

  1. A metering equipment manufacturer
  2. A decision support and automation solutions provider
  3. An orchard mapping systems and data management company
  4. A fruit maturity monitoring company
  5. A horticulture solutions provider
  6. A mowing equipment maker
  7. An ICT consultancy
  8. A kiwifruit marketing company
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