View all news

From Mars to macadamias - Southern Cross’s first mechanical engineering graduates


Adam Walters
9 January 2020

One dream to work in the aerospace industry - and another to produce revolutionary machinery for macadamia plantations are the grand plans of the first two mechanical engineers to graduate from Southern Cross University.

Mitch Lavelle and David Stuckey received their degrees at last December's Southern Cross graduation ceremony.

The highlights for David’s study at Southern Cross include his invention of an autonomous lawn mower that moves in a precise way between rows of macadamia trees. He also created software for a de-husking machine.

“In the Northern Rivers alone there are at least 100 farms to which my technology could be applied,” David said.

“My thesis was the autonomous mower – and was all about accurately navigating between the rows of macadamia trees using cameras to measure exact distances because GPS systems don’t work under protective canopies.”

David is now working for the start-up Auto Orchards, which has applied for a grant from the Department of Primary Industries to further develop the technology ahead of scaling for mass production.

Mitch Lavelle’s interest in mechanical systems from a young age led him into the degree.

“The whole course has been a constant highlight. The lecturers have been really flexible in helping us along and I particularly liked the honours projects,” Mitch said.

His thesis investigated impacts of corrosive substances on carbon fibre composites and Mitch hopes the knowledge from his Southern Cross studies will lead to a career in motor sports or the aerospace industry.

“The aerospace sector in Australia looks like it’s going to boom in the next few years with the Australian Space Agency and talk of plans involving Mars and the moon so it’s an exciting time in the mechanical realm.”