How a robotics professor and farmers are working together to make tomorrow’s food healthier.


Robots have long been a mainstay of science fiction. But in the 21st century they’re becoming science fact.

Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems, Salah Sukkarieh, is creating robots that will transform modern farming and help ensure the global food supply keeps up with a growing population.

He sees a future where robots will tend farm animals, crops and orchards, making farming more efficient and sustainable. And with a United Nations advisory panel saying food production needs to increase 60 percent by 2050, this is more important than ever.

By partnering with farmers across Australia, Professor Sukkarieh is testing robots that fly over crops and orchards to precision-spray weeds and keep herbicide use to a minimum. This ensures the soil and wider ecosystem are protected, ultimately providing us with healthier food.

Professor Sukkarieh is also collaborating with colleagues from engineering, veterinary science, agriculture, science and business, to develop new ideas and technologies that will improve our complex food production systems. The team is examining beef, dairy cattle, apples, almonds and wheat to work out how we can get the best out of harvesting, production, distribution and logistics systems while optimising nutritional quality.

The Australian Vegetable Industry’s peak body, Ausveg, recently awarded Professor Sukkarieh Researcher of the Year for his work in farm technology.

Using intelligent systems to improve our food supply is just one of the many unexpected collaborations taking place at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre.



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The Charles Perkins Centre


The University of Sydney is committed to discovering life-changing solutions to global problems. At the Charles Perkins Centre we are dedicated to easing the burden of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and related conditions through innovative research and teaching.

The centre owes its name to one of our most outstanding graduates, Dr Charles Perkins AO, the first Aboriginal man to graduate from university in Australia. Charles Perkins was a leader who pushed boundaries to foster and collaborate on new ideas. He was a pioneer of change, and the centre shares his philosophy: we challenge conventional approaches to illness and work across disciplines. Through this method, we will generate the unique insights that we need in order to reform the health of the world.

This would not have been possible without the generous support of our donors. A Picasso painting given to the centre by an anonymous donor, for example, contributed $20.6 million of a total $55 million in philanthropy bestowed upon the centre so far.

For more detail on our research and talented staff, explore our website.



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The Charles Perkins Centre

Building D17
Johns Hopkins Drive (off Missenden Rd)
The University of Sydney
Camperdown NSW 2006

P +61 2 8627 1616



Why do some people follow their doctor’s orders to the letter, but others ignore medical advice and continue living in a way that is detrimental to their health? We combine our knowledge of biology with human psychology, historical precedents, social and cultural norms, and economic, political and environmental factors. Our research seeks to better understand how risk of disease is affected by individual and social psychology and behaviour.

Read more about our work in this area.


Understanding the fundamental mechanisms of disease is essential for defining what is possible by way of prevention, intervention and treatment. Our work explores fundamental genetic and epigenetic mechanisms, systems metabolism, organ and whole-organism physiology and behaviour, with an evolutionary and ecological perspective to gain greater understanding of the human condition. 

Read more about our research approach.


Human nutrition and health are not only determined by the food we eat, but also by the farming practices, production conditions and supply-chain systems that ultimately feed us. Our research explores issues such as the delivery of nutritious food to satisfy the changing demands of individuals throughout life and how to provide nutritional security to a global population.

Read more about our work in this area.


Why do people make the health choices they do? How do government, industry, advertising and local community groups influence our health? And how do ethics govern behaviour? These are some of the questions we explore in our politics, governance and ethics of health theme. This research brings together experts from disciplines such as law, ethics, politics, business, economics and sociology. 

Read more about our research approach.


Robots have transformed modern industrial production. Our robotics experts are working to improve farming, processing, and the logistics of food supply to support improved health. 

Watch our video to see how robotic experts are working with farmers.


Our research tackles some of the most important problems that clinicians face in preventing and treating metabolic diseases. We use technologies combined with complex systems analysis of humans at risk of a particular disease to find and implement better treatment strategies. 

Read more about our work in this area.


Lifestyle plays a dominant role in obesity and metabolic disease in combination with genetics. Genetics includes the genes we inherit from our parents, the changes in our genome that occur during early development and the genes that comprise the billions of micro-organisms residing in our gut. We are examining the equilibrium between these systems and the environment to better understand their impact on health and disease.

Read more about our work in this area.


As our society becomes increasingly sedentary, the effect on our health and wellbeing is alarming. The way we work means many of us spend most of our day sitting, with prolonged sitting now flagged as one of the greatest contributors to the obesity epidemic and poor health. We are addressing the challenging public health problems of physical inactivity and obesity.

Read more about our research approach.


Human nutrition isn’t just about the foods we eat. It involves the production systems of the animals and plants that make up our diet, and the food supply systems that sustain us. Our nutrition theme explores a range of issues including what comprises a healthy, balanced diet throughout life, and how we ensure the health of our planet while meeting the nutritional demands of a growing population. 

Read more about our research approach.


Today’s built environment is a big factor in the obesity epidemic, having been designed for convenience instead of health. A lack of viable public transport and active transport options (such as cycling and walking), greater availability of fast food, social isolation, and a shortage of public spaces all play a part. Our research explores how our built environment affects our health, and how urban planning practices can promote positive health outcomes.

Read more about our research approach.


One of our key priorities is the translation of laboratory research into disease prevention and better patient outcomes. We are focused on real-world solutions, and work with medical research communities, health districts, government and industry. Our network brings together allied health workers, general practitioners, hospital clinicians and others to provide holistic treatment.     

Read more about our research network.


One of our priority research themes is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. With a focus on delivering improved health for these communities, this theme engages all of our research domains and academics from fields as diverse as medicine, rural health, education, engineering, and agriculture. 

Read more about our research approach.


Many of our research project nodes involve the issues of public and preventive health. We explore public health from a whole-of-life perspective, from prenatal health to issues particular to our ageing population. Our research also explores how policy changes can improve our nation’s health literacy, helping individuals to understand and actively manage their own healthcare.

Read more about our work in this area.


How can animals inform human health? Our research covers a variety of animals – from locusts to household pets and wild gorillas. We are looking for insights into our own health and that of our environment.

Read more about our work in this area.


Astrophysics may seem an unlikely theme for a centre devoted to easing the burdens of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But collaborating with experts from this field could change the very nature of medicine. We are using the algorithms that measure changes in the cosmos to examine the signals between human cells. This detailed level of understanding is the basis for a shift in medicine, from curing disease to prediction and prevention.

Watch our video to see how an astrophysicist and biologist are working together.


What role does the parents’ health play in their baby’s future health, even before pregnancy? Through a flagship project we are exploring the mechanisms that take place before and during pregnancy that contribute to the development of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other related conditions throughout life. This study forms part of our populations research domain that examines data sets from clinical trials, cohort studies and surveys to better understand these diseases. 

Read more about our work in this area.


Modern technology has a profound impact on the way we live. From avatars to data gathering, sensing apps to gaming, our research explores how we can harness these technologies to improve our heath and wellbeing.

Watch our video to see how diabetes experts are working with gaming programmers.


Physics and mathematical modelling are a crucial component of our approach to research. An emphasis on complex systems is a defining feature of our work. Our complex systems and modelling research theme aims to unravel the network of factors that span gene, metabolic, cellular and organ systems. We use systems biology, social networks, mathematical methods and computational tools and data to reveal the interconnectedness of critical factors causing chronic diseases. 

Read more about our research approach.



More than 60% of Australian adults are overweight or obese

ABS, Australian Health Survey: Updated Results, 2011-2012 


Adults do just over 30 minutes of physical activity per day vs. 5.6 hours per day of sedentary activity

4364.0.55.004 - Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2011-12 Latest Issue, Released at 11:30am AEST 19/07/2013 First Issue

Accessed 05/06/14 


112 hospitalisations for diabetes so far today in Australia

AIHW 2014. Australia's hospitals at a glance 2012-13. Health services series no. 55. Cat. no. HSE 146. Canberra: AIHW

Accessed 05/05/14 


#diet #treatyourself #indulge #fat #workout #obesity #gymselfies #burn


52% of Australians grow some of their own food 

Grow your own. The potential value and impacts of residential and community food gardening. March 2014. Poppy Wise, The Australia Institure. Policy Brief No. 59. ISSN 1836-9014 


Australians discard 20% of the food they purchase


The average portion size has increased 24% since the 1970s,15463


Total financial cost per year for type 2 diabetes is estimated at $23.9 billion

Access Economics. The growing cost of obesity in 2008: three years on. Canberra: Diabetes Australia, 2008, page 16

Accessed 06/05/14 

Lee CMY, et al. The cost of diabetes in adults in Australia. Diabetes Res Clin Pract (2013) 10.1016/j.diabres.2012.12.002 


Australians use their phones 150 times a day, which is once per heart attack occurring in Australia

Data coming originally from the Tomi Ahonen Almanac 2013 (slide 52)

AIHW 2014. Australia's hospitals at a glance 2012-13. Health services series no. 55. Cat. no. HSE 146. Canberra: AIHW

Accessed 05/05/14 


30% of all deaths globally are caused by a cardiovascular disease

Global status report on non-communicable diseases 2010, Geneva, World Health Organization, 2011 


There are a million times more cells in the human body than there are stars in the Milky Way