UK tech company Fieldwork Robotics last week (19 March) announced it has raised £675,000 through an equity fundraising from existing and new investors.
The proceeds will be used to support development of the company's flexible agricultural robot technology for harvesting soft fruit and vegetables. They will allow Fieldwork to accelerate scale up of a raspberry harvesting robot to bring it to market. The funding also means the company, a spin out from the University of Plymouth, is able to embark on the development of a cauliflower-harvesting robot in collaboration with Bonduelle, one of the world's largest vegetable producers.
In addition to the fundraising, University of Plymouth Enterprises Limited, the University of Plymouth's commercial consultancy and contract arm, has converted £44,000 of patent costs into equity. The funding round means Frontier IP's (a specialist in commercialising intellectual property) equity stake in the business is now 22.2 per cent.
An alpha prototype of the raspberry harvester is to enter further field trials in July this year, subject to Covid-19 restrictions, the company said. Fieldwork will then focus on preparing the robot design for manufacture.
Fieldwork's technology is designed to be flexible and modular so it can be adapted to harvesting different soft fruit and vegetables, and the company said it is progressing with further applications for agriculture.
The technology's potential has been recognised by government body Innovate UK, which awarded the company a £547,250 Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund grant in November 2018 to accelerate development of its technology. This was part of a £671,484 project, whose other partners included the University of Plymouth and the National Physical Laboratory.
Innovate UK has since awarded a further three grants to the company totalling £303,000 to accelerate development through the Covid-19 pandemic and a £50,000 Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative Grant from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to support the cost reduction of specific components.
Rui Andres, Fieldwork Robotics chief executive officer, said: "This fundraising allows us to start the work with Bonduelle and to accelerate the development of our raspberry harvesting robot. The investment demonstrates the strong interest in the technology at a time when growers all over the world are struggling to recruit labour."
Neil Crabb, Frontier IP chief executive officer, said: "I am delighted with the strong progress Fieldwork has made despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. This investment is an important step forward in allowing the company to achieve its ambitions."
Frontier IP, the commercialisation partner for the University of Plymouth, says its aim is to unite science and commerce by identifying strong intellectual property and accelerating its development through a range of commercialisation services.
"A critical part of the group's work is involving relevant industry partners at an early stage of development to ensure technology meets real-world demands and needs," it said.