Fieldwork Robotics has completed initial field trials of its robot raspberry harvesting system.
Data from the trials will be used to refine and improve the prototype system before further field trials are held later this year. If the trials are successful, then manufacturing of a commercial system is expected to begin in 2020.
The trials were held in West Sussex at a farm owned by Fieldwork’s industry partner, leading UK soft-fruit grower Hall Hunter Partnership (“Hall Hunter”). Hall Hunter supplies Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Waitrose.
The move follows University of Plymouth spin out Fieldwork being awarded a £547,250 Innovate UK grant earlier this year towards a £671,484 project to develop a multi-armed robot prototype. Other partners include the University of Plymouth and the National Physical Laboratory.
Frontier IP provides Fieldwork with support for engineering and software development, fundraising and industry partnerships. The Company was incorporated to develop and commercialise the work of Dr Martin Stoelen, Lecturer in Robotics at the University’s School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics.
Fieldwork is focused initially on raspberries because they are hard to pick. They are more delicate, more easily damaged than other soft fruits, and grow on bushes with complex foliage and berry distribution. Once the system is proved to work with raspberries, then it can be adapted readily for other soft fruits and vegetables.
Farmers around the world are increasingly interested in robot technology to address the long-term structural decline in labour. Fieldwork is developing proof-of-concept robots for other crops following interest from leading agribusinesses.
The Innovate UK ISCF grant is one of several to be awarded to Dr Stoelen’s work. A project to develop robot systems to harvest cauliflowers is supported by Agri-Tech Cornwall, an initiative part funded by the European Regional Development Fund with match-funding from Cornwall Council. Dr Stoelen is also working on a tomato-picking project run in partnership with Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
To support further development of its flexible and adaptable robotics technology, Fieldwork Robotics is expected to seek further funding from institutional and private investors during 2019.
Frontier IP, Chief Executive Officer, Neil Crabb said: “We are delighted with the progress Fieldwork is making in developing a raspberry-harvesting robot system. Completing these field trials is an important milestone in commercialising the technology, and we are looking forward to the next round of tests in the autumn.”
Hall Hunter Partnership, Chief Operating Officer, David Green said: “As has always been the case, for agricultural and horticultural businesses such as ours to stay competitive in developed economies, we must embrace and invest in the latest technological innovations as they evolve.
“At HHP we foresee that the direct application of robotics platforms for harvest and husbandry activities, combined with the spin-off benefits of additional data collection and microanalysis they make possible will play a significant role in increasing product quality, productivity and yields in the near to medium term.”