Robots Could Be The Key To Keeping Agriculture And Industry Running In Australia

Most of Australia's population dwells along the coastline. What that means is that the interior of the country is more or less untamed wilderness, rich in resources for anyone willing to travel there and gather them. The problem is, no one really wants to.

"We have a labor shortage in the areas we want them; in agriculture, mining, and other primary industries," explained Sydney University's Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems Salah Sukkarieh to BBC News. "Most of the population likes living along the coastline, along the beach." 

And really, who wouldn't? If given the choice between beachfront property and a house in the middle of a dry, dusty grassland, which would you choose? I'm certain we both know the answer to that question already, no? 

That isn't the only reason Australia has trouble finding people to do the grunt work necessary for industry, either. Both wages and living standards in the country tend to be fairly high - meaning people aren't really interested in tilling fields or working mines. Taken together, what this means is that many farmers and mining agencies are struggling, desperate to find people to hire.

Taken together, the whole mess has had one rather awesome side effect - it's forced Australia to push itself to the fore of the robotics field as a matter of necessity. 

Already, we've seen a host of robots designed to do the jobs that humans won't. Professor Sukkarieh's Ladybird robot, for example, is capable of analyzing the vegetation in a field of crops and removing any weeds it finds. Mantis, meanwhile, is a robot that uses image recognition techniques to measure when an orchard is ready to be harvested, and the Scenic Rim Robotic Dairy Farm has managed to completely automate the milk gathering process - cows there actually queue up when they're ready to be milked, returning to the fields a short time later.

Even more exciting, however, is what's taking place at Australia's iron mines, deep within the heart of the continent. There, a fleet of robotic mining trucks tall as houses gather up the rubble and resources generated by the mines, to be brought back to the city for processing. Although engineers, maintenance staff, and operators are still necessary at such mines, many mining organizations - such as mining behemoth Rio Tinto - are working to completely automate the process.

What that means is that, though there will always be people employed in the mining industry, the numbers will be significantly lower. Even better, operators won't necessarily need to fly out to the mines just to do their jobs. Thanks to modern technology, they can easily work from within their home city, controlling their machinery through remote operation. 

It's easy to get caught up stargazing when discussing modern-day robotics. It's easy to talk in sweeping terms about new developments in AI, future implications of a cool new gadget, or the latest super-advanced humanoid machine. I rather enjoy doing so, myself, but I also acknowledge that such conversation runs the risk of ignoring the true value inherent in robotic technology - automation.