Rights: University of Waikato. All Rights Reserved. Published 6 June 2012 Download

See two different methods used to artificially pollinate kiwifruit and learn about them from Dr Mark Goodwin of Plant & Food Research. Dr Paul Martinsen, a research engineer at Plant & Food, shows and describes the RoboBee – a machine being developed to pollinate kiwifruit more efficiently than current methods.


There’s two main approaches to artificial pollination. The first one is using a wet solution, and the solution’s been particularly designed so you can take dry pollen, mix it in the solution and then spray it onto flowers.

The other common method that we use is to take the dry pollen and just blow it onto flowers, and that one has the advantage that it’s really easy to do and you can do a lot of flowers really quickly.

The real problem with doing artificial pollination is the pollen is very expensive and there’s a lot of labour required to go through and pollinate, so to solve all of this is to have a machine that can replace the human beings. And the machine that we’re developing here does exactly that thing – it’s very smart, it works out what a flower is and what isn’t a flower and just puts pollen on the flower and doesn’t spread pollen everywhere else.

This machine is an experimental prototype that lets us test ideas and concepts in the field. The way that it works is the RoboBee drives under a kiwifruit canopy, and as it goes, it detects flowers and delivers a dose of pollen up into the canopy. We want to be careful that we target only the flowers because pollen’s quite valuable, so we don’t want to waste it on leaves and branches and posts and things.

The flowers are detected by this line of sensors that peer up into the kiwifruit canopy. It’s a little bit like a low-resolution digital camera except we operate much faster than a standard digital camera, because the bike travels along at about 6 ks an hour. Light under the canopy is quite variable and it’s not very uniform so we provide our own illumination with this pair of lasers. Now fortunately, kiwifruit flowers are white so they stand out a nice contrast against the green leaf background. So when a group of sensors detects a flower, they send a signal off to the valves, which releases a dose of pollen that travels up into the flower.

In its current form, RoboBee requires a human driver to man the bike and navigate through the orchard, but in the future, we see the possibilities that that could be done autonomously.

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