World’s first log-scaling robot lands kiwis top 50 innovation ranking

A world-first robotic innovation that scans and measures export logs on trucks has landed its Kiwi developers, Robotics Plus, on the 2020 RBR50, Robotics Business Review’s prestigious global list recognising the 50 most innovative and transformative robotics companies of the year.

Robotics Plus, a Tauranga-based agricultural robotics and automation company, has been named a Global Top 50 Robotics Company for its industry-changing Robotic Scaling Machine (RSM) which automates the accurate volumetric measurement (scaling) of logs on trucks and trailers, replacing manual measurement. 

Commercially launched in June 2019, the technology was developed in collaboration with Mount Maunganui-based ISO Limited, which commissioned the first RSM forits facility at the Port of Tauranga and has had it in operation since November 2018. ISO now has eight robots installed across the North Island scaling more than 25% of New Zealand’s 20 million cubic metres of annual log exports. Further installations are planned around the country in 2020.

“It’s really exciting to be recognised alongside some of the biggest and best-known robotics, software and automation companies in the world including Boston Dynamics, ABB Robotics, Yasakawa Motoman, Nvidia, SICK and Microsoft,” said Dr Alistair Scarfe, co-founder and chief technology officer of Robotics Plus, who led the RSM technology development. 

Steve Saunders, co-founder and chairman of Robotics Plus, says it’s fantastic to see New Zealand’s world-class robotics capability being recognised on the international stage.

“The forestry industry globally can benefit enormously from automation. The scaling of logs is traditionally a slow, sometimes dangerous, manual process – so it was well suited to being automated.  Due to the success and reliability of the RSM, we’re currently exploring a range of international markets including the US, Canada, South America and Europe,” said Saunders.

Saunders and Scarfe co-founded Robotics Plus to improve the quality, productivity and sustainability across multiple agricultural sectors through automation, via a suite of machine vision, robotics and automation, machine learning and AI, analytics, software and control systems.  In 2018 the company completed a US$10M Series A investment with Yamaha Motor Co to accelerate the development of its robotic technologies including robotic apple packers and UGV (unmanned ground vehicles) that can carry out a range of agricultural tasks including robotic harvesting, fruit picking and pollination.

Paul Cameron, chief executive officer of ISO, says the automated process is already having a significant impact as it is a safer, efficient and more productive system than the previous manual system used throughout the world, which requires people to hand scan the logs by climbing between trucks and trailers.

“The Robotic Scaling Machine can automatically scan logs on a truck in 3 to 4 minutes, which compares up to 40 minutes for manual measurement using a ruler. Importantly, it also eliminates exposure to hazards and moves those people into a safer environment and into more skilled roles,” said Cameron. 

The 2020 RBR50 innovation awards, the ninth annual list of top robotics companies globally, recognises forward-thinking companies and the original, impactful solutions they have created. Widely recognised throughout the world as a leading indicator of robotics innovation leadership, the RBR50 is also a critical measure of robotics sector growth. RBR50 winners were based in the United States, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan and South Korea. Robotics Plus was the only New Zealand company named on the list.