Robot farmhands, future paddocks and savvy students: National Science Week stories for NSW rural rounds

Media bulletins, National Science Week

Technology is vital for future agriculture, research reveals

Australia’s biggest science festival, National Science Week 2019, will run from 10 to 18 August, with events in major cities, regional centres and country towns. Here are a few of interest for country residents.

Agri-robots and future farming: how science is transforming NSW

From robots rounding up cattle to picking fruit at the right time, technology is helping New South Wales’ $13 billion agriculture sector adapt to the future. Science is not just for the city, says Chief Scientist & Engineer Professor Hugh Durrant-White.

Agricultural robotics or ‘robot farmhands’ will help farmers improve their bottom line, reduce chemical use, and provide better quality food to consumers. Aided by GPS, smart sensors, and precision spraying and weeding, robot farmhands can do some of the labour-intensive weeding, fruit picking and other work for which there are labour shortages.

University of Sydney engineer and Agerris CEO Professor Salah Sukkarieh says GPS robots can work 24-seven, run on solar power, and improve farming sustainability. Selective harvesting picks only the produce that is ready, reducing food waste. Smart sensors allow precision spraying and weeding.

Professor Durrant-Whyte will launch National Science Week in NSW at an agri-robotics event in Springwood, joined by Professor Sukkarieh with a Digital Farmhand robot demonstration.

In the coming two years, the team will hand over real agri-robots to 20 regional schools for a full term along with supporting classroom material based on the Australian curriculum. This will give the next generation of farmers and leaders a taste of the engineering, technology and agricultural science that will underpin the future economy and continue to put food on the table.

Sunday 4 August Event details

Footage available. Scientists available for interviews.

Media enquiries for Chief Scientist & Engineer Professor Hugh Durrant-White:

Media enquiries for Professor Salah Sukkarieh:

See video of Salah Sukkarieh’s robots in action. Broadcast quality footage without music here.

Allynbrook: From family farm to future paddock

The future of agriculture, from the soil to the skies, will be explored at Kater family farm in Allynbrook, in the Dungog Shire. The Katers and their farm have featured on TV when they trialled the SwagBot, a prototype robot designed to work with cattle. See video.

  • The Kater family will share the principles and their experience of regenerative agriculture, with examples from their own paddocks.
  • Ecologist Alex King will talk about how to re-establish a fire-resistant healthy native forest.
  • There will also be displays, demonstrations and information about technology in agriculture, from drones to robotic farmhands.

Sunday 18 August Event details

Media enquiries: John O’Brien, or 0427 290 209.

Opening young eyes to careers in science, technology, engineering and maths

Scott Sleap (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Cessnock High School teacher Dr Scott Sleap knows the Hunter Valley’s mining boom won’t last forever. He’s  giving young people the skills and hope for high-value future jobs in regional areas in agriculture, tourism and aerospace industries. He’s doing so with the help of drones and robotics, for example, getting struggling students making and racing model F1 cars, mentored by Boeing engineers.

Dr Sleap won the 2018 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching for his work creating the Cessnock Academy of STEM Excellence as a partnership between Cessnock High School, its feeder primary schools, and local industry. Local Academies of STEM Excellence have been formed with many schools across NSW. They’re sharing their science and showcasing their students is several events for National Science Week.

ShowCASE (Cessnock): Thursday 8 August Event details

Code like a girl (Cessnock): Thursday 15 August Event details

Media enquiries: Scott Sleap,, 02 4990 1977 or 0409 366 504.

About National Science Week

National Science Week has become one of Australia’s largest festivals. Last year saw 1.2 million people participate in more than 2,100 events and activities.

In 2019, National Science Week events will be held right throughout Australia—from world’s first global Indigenous hackathon ‘INDIGI HACK’ to ‘Dr Dolphin’ and his bottlenose friends in Adelaide, and from marking the Moon landing in Sydney to the science queens of Kings Park in Perth—with everything including science festivals, music and comedy shows, expert panel discussions, interactive hands-on displays, open days and online activities.

National Science Week 2019 will run from 10 to 18 August. Media kit at, public event listings at

General National Science Week media contacts:

Tanya Ha: or 0404 083 863
Niall Byrne: or 0417 131 977