Machinery

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LYRO: A plug and play packing robot that keeps on learning

A new plug & play packing robot for fresh produce can help growers and packing houses solve some of their problems with the widespread labour shortage in Australian agriculture.

Dr Juxi Leitner, managing director and co-founder of LYRO Robotics in Queensland, says there is ample interest in the intelligent robotic system. LYRO Robotics was started in 2019, as a spin-out of the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.

LYRO packing robot

The company has recently presented the new packing robot as its first commercial product. “We‘ve been working on this product for about 15 months”, Leitner explains. “We have no name for it at this point in time, so for now we just call it the LYRO packing robot.”

The packing robot has a plug & play design, which means it can be installed in less than one hour. “It is a robotic system that can deal with uncertainty”, Juxi says. “We just roll it in at farms or packing houses and fit it in existing operations. With a conveyor belt for example, the belt goes through the system and we start picking fruit or vegetables and place them down in cardboard boxes.”

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A packing robot. LYRO can fit it in existing operations in less than an hour. Photo: LYRO Robotics
A packing robot. LYRO can fit it in existing operations in less than an hour. Photo: LYRO Robotics

A learning process

Leitner emphasises that the artificial intelligence of the robot makes it highly adaptive and flexible. “It has an understanding of the world around it. The vision system helps to make decisions. If you‘re packing avocados, you just instruct the robot the number you want packed per box. That is basically all you have to do. The robot then keeps on working until you turn it off.”

The founder of LYRO says that the new post-harvest robot is the only one of its kind. A simple user interface makes it easy to instruct the system for the operators.

We are not aware of another robotic system that adapts to more than one type of produce and can so easily be installed

“There’s a few robots that are specialised in one specific fruit. They can fill a sack of oranges for example. But we are not aware of another robotic system that adapts to more than one type of produce and can so easily be installed”, Leitner says.

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Juxi Leitner: "We feel like we just presented our first iPhone." Photo: LYRO Robotics
Juxi Leitner: "We feel like we just presented our first iPhone." Photo: LYRO Robotics

The artificial intelligence behind LYRO’s technology involves a decision making process and a learning process to improve the throughput of produce, using algorithms. “The robot has to make a decision of how to pick up the fruit and how to place it”, Leitner says. “It used to be a problem that some products don’t look alike, as is the case with sweet potatoes for example. There was no model because they can look so different. With our AI system that is no longer a problem. It knows what to look for and how to adapt to that. And because of the algorithm the system will keep improving anytime it sees a new object.”

Packing robot can handle most fruits

The packing robot can handle most fruits and quite a few vegetables, Leitner says. “So far we have packed mangos, melons, citrus fruit, avocados, apples, bell peppers, capsicum, sweet potatoes and punnets of mushroom and tomatoes, nectarines and other stone fruit. All in commercial settings. The system can pick up products from just a few grams up to 3 or 4 kilograms.”

The fresh produce can be placed in boxes, but also in sacks or punnets. Leitner: “As long as there is an opening, we can place it in there. But with sacks, the focus is usually on weight, and there are other solutions for that in the market. You don’t have to make a decision about placing the produce.”

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The robot has no problem lifting heavy fruit like melons. Photo: LYRO Robotics
The robot has no problem lifting heavy fruit like melons. Photo: LYRO Robotics

Specifications of the customer

LYRO builds each robot according to the specifications of the customer. The Queensland company can sell the robotic systems outright or lease it for a certain period. “We see a lot more interest in our robot as a service model”, Leitner says. “We keep ownership and place the robot at a farm or packing house as a sort of ‘backpacker’ that does the work. We charge similar to labour rates between 200 and 300 AUS dollars per 8 hour shift.”

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LYRO charges similar to labour rates between 200 and 300 AUS dollars per 8 hour shift. Photo: LYRO Robotics
LYRO charges similar to labour rates between 200 and 300 AUS dollars per 8 hour shift. Photo: LYRO Robotics

Packing robots getting faster

On average the packing robot can deliver the same throughput as a human packer. “Over the whole 8 hour shift our robot is very consistent”, Leitner points out. “Depending on the produce we can currently pack between 500 and 800 products per hour. But our robots are getting faster. In the last twelve months we have doubled our throughput and within the next few months we expect to be significant faster yet again. And the capabilities will improve as well.”

We see a big shift towards automation in agriculture at the moment

The shortage of labour is a massive issue in Australia at the moment, Leitner explains. “So there are a lot of farmers interested. But our packing robot also generates interest in other countries like the United States, Japan and other high labour cost countries in Europe and South America. We see a big shift towards automation in agriculture at the moment.”

5 to 10 robots installed

LYRO Robotics is currently focussing on the Australian market. In the winter season, starting in June, the company is aiming to get 5 to 10 of the robots installed. There are some trials ongoing and the interest for more trials is growing, Leitner says.

LYRO Robotics is currently raising money to build more robotic packing systems. Leitner: “We‘re talking to investors to ramp production up quickly, so we can get 40 or 50 robots out there in the next year. We have plenty of interest of farmers. There is a lot of pressure on the supply chain right now.”

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The robots are built in Brisbane. “We are very exited to get these robotic systems out there”, Leitner says. “We spent a decade on fundamental research and fifteen months on product development. We feel like we just presented our first iPhone.”

In-field operations

The technology of LYRO also translates well to in-field operations, Leitner says. “The big question is: what platform do we use? Do we put in on a tractor or do we work with a company that builds autonomous vehicles? We do have partnerships that we team up with but it will probably take a few years before this technology is commercially viable and drive down the paddock.”

Also read: Packing robot shifts from car parts to cucumbers

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