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The New Zealand Robotics, Automation and Sensing (NZRAS) network has released a roadmap to guide the country’s development in robotics, automation and sensing (RAS).
The document is the first of its kind for the country. It gives an overview of the current state of RAS in New Zealand, and outlines sectors with the most potential for growth.
According to NZRAS, New Zealand has historically been behind in technological advancements because of its small size and distance from trading partners. The document is meant to help the country catch up to the rest of the world, while creating a path for the country to become a leader in specific sectors.
Today, the country’s RAS ecosystem employs over 3,200 people and generates more than NZD $1 billion annually. It involves over 84 developers, 43 integrators and 870 researchers.
NZRAS predicts that by 2040, 46% of day jobs will be at risk of replacement by automation. By 2025, the number of industrial and service robots being used will double.
The document highlights four sectors that will benefit the most from RAS development: manufacturing, horticulture and forestry, agriculture and aquaculture and consumer and professional services.
Around 11% of New Zealand’s workforce works in manufacturing. It’s a diverse industry, New Zealand’s is made up of seven key sectors: food and beverage, wood and paper, machinery and equipment, chemicals and refining, plastics and rubber, metals and metal products and other manufacturing.
The largest of these sectors is food and beverage. In the next five years, NZRAS hopes to implement semi-autonomous meat and fish processing, with fully automating processing coming in the next 20 years.
Manufacturing is an industry that’s already interested in automation. According to NZRAS, 20% of all manufacturing firms undertake some form of research and development annually. Many manufacturing firms are larger businesses that have more resources to put into testing automation.
However, the country also faces more international competition in automating the manufacturing sector.
Horticulture and forestry
New Zealand’s horticulture and forestry sector is already looking to automation to solve labor shortage and environmental issues, like lowering water usage. RAS development in this area has a lot of room for growth, and New Zealand’s varied landscapes and geographic conditions provide a good testing ground.
There’s also a large domestic market for robots in these industries. In 2019, horticulture produce brought in an estimated NZD $9.6 billion in revenue, and forestry brought in another NZD $6.8 billion.
There are a number of challenges that come with automating this sector. Currently, New Zealand doesn’t have many test facilities within the country to develop new technologies. Many forests are harvested by small contractors that don’t have money to invest in RAS.
While New Zealand’s geography presents unique opportunities, it’s generally hilly landscape also creates more challenges. Additionally, climate change could make the industry as a whole less viable in the coming years.
Agriculture and aquaculture
In 2018, agriculture made up 4.3% of New Zealand’s GDP, and aquaculture made up .4% of it. Exporting goods like milk powder, meat, seafood and wool made up 65% of New Zealand’s primary sector exports.
Automating agriculture and aquaculture presents some of the same challenges as horticulture and forestry, such as a lack of testing facilities and environmental concerns.
However, RAS also faces unique challenges in adoption within this sector. Oftentimes, farm owners rely on peers for advice on new technologies, not experts. Benefits of automation also need to be expressed in relevant terms to farmers, such as cost per kg of milk solids.
Consumer and Professional Services
Consumer and professional services’ largest sectors in New Zealand are supermarkets, motor vehicle and parts retail and food and beverage services. Overall, retail trade generates over NZD $96 billion in sales.
This is another sector that has already been working towards automation, particularly in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), logistics and packaging.
New Zealand’s domestic market size in retail and wholesale trade make it ideal for testing new products before a bigger, international market. According to NZRAS, the country’s regulatory authorities are also adaptable to testing new RAS, particularly UGVs and UAVs.
The challenges the country faces in this market aren’t unique to New Zealand. It will take time for people to be welcoming to robots filling roles in their everyday lives, and RAS developers will have to take into account privacy concerns.
New Zealand isn’t the only country looking to develop it’s robotics industry. China recently released its five year plan to grow its robotics industry.