Fieldwork Robotics has chosen raspberries as the first target for its robotic fruit and vegetable picking project.
Raspberries are the most delicate of soft fruits – and with the added complication that they grow within complex foliage- they are a challenging first target for the UK-based company.
Fieldwork is a spin-out from the University of Plymouth, located on the south coast of England, where Dr Martin Stoelen leads the university’s Soft & Adaptive Robotics laboratory.
The ‘soft’ technology covers variable pressure grips on the robot arm to suit the demands of the task being undertaken.
In addition to the soft-fruit project, Dr Martin Stoelen is leading the development of robot systems for harvesting cauliflowers, supported by Agri-Tech Cornwall and part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Cornwall Council. Photo Credit: University of Plymouth
Initial field trials were completed last year with industry partner Hall Hunter Partnership (HHP), a major soft-fruit grower: “Field testing was a major milestone because it gave us invaluable feedback to keep developing the system towards commercialisation,” says Dr Stoelen.
Potential of robotics
At HHP, chief executive David Green highlights the potential of robotics: “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.
“We foresee that robotic platforms for harvest and husbandry activities, combined with the spin-off benefits of additional data collection and micro analysis, will play a significant role in increasing product quality, productivity and yields.”
Fieldwork is now getting help from electronics giant Bosch to optimise the harvester’s manipulating arms and control software with the aim of reducing costs and increasing the working speed.
The prototype Fieldwork Robotics raspberry harvester must overcome significant challenges. Photo Credit: Fieldwork Robotics/University of Plymouth
Vivek Kadal, who leads the Bosch team working on the development, said: “It gives Bosch great pleasure to work with companies that pioneer and change the way robotics are being used to simplify human working. We will provide best in class capabilities to enable Fieldwork to commercialise and bring its robots to market.”
The collaboration with Bosch is a significant step towards those goals, says Neill Crabb, CEO at Frontier IP Group, a specialist in commercialising intellectual property with more than 25% of Frontier Robotics shares.
So-called ‘soft’ robotics relates to variable stiffness technology that enables the robot to adapt to different elements of a particular task. Photo Credit: Fieldwork Robotics/University of Plymouth
Earlier this year, Frontier IP converted a £48,000 loan into equity as part of a first funding round that also attracted £250,000 from new investors.
In 2019, the fledgling business won a £547,000 grant from the British government’s Innovate UK agency as part of a £671,484 project involving the University of Plymouth and the National Physical Laboratory to accelerate development of the raspberry harvesting robot.