The commercialisation of robot-harvested raspberries has moved a step closer after a University of Plymouth spinout company was awarded almost £550,000 to accelerate the development of its new system.
The grant, from the Innovate UK Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), will enable Fieldwork Robotics to create a multi-armed mobile robot prototype.
It builds on industry backing the company gained in August 2018, when it signed a collaboration agreement with the Hall Hunter Partnership, a leading soft-fruit grower supplying Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Waitrose.
Fieldwork was created by robotics lecturer Dr Martin Stoelen, and for this new project the business will be working alongside partners including the university and the National Physical Laboratory.
It is initially focusing on raspberries because 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, it can be adapted readily for other soft fruits and vegetables.
The grant comprises £547,250 towards a £671,484 project, and is one of several to be awarded to support Stoelen’s work. A project to develop robot systems to harvest cauliflowers has received £216,000 from Agri-Tech Cornwall, a three-year, £9.6 million initiative part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, with match-funding from Cornwall Council.
Stoelen is also working on a tomato-picking project in partnership with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which has received funding from the Agri-Tech in China: Newton Network+ (ATCNN) fund.
Stoelen said: "We are delighted with this grant award from Innovate UK and the Industrial Challenge Strategy Fund, which will help us bring forward the day when our robot system will be harvesting berries in the field.”