Fieldwork Robotics, the Plymouth University spin-out building the world’s first raspberry harvesting robot, has raised £298,000 in its first ever funding round.
Frontier IP, of which Fieldwork is a portfolio company, said that the funding would be used to accelerate and scale up development of an autonomous robot system designed to pick soft fruit and vegetables.
It said that it converted a £48,000 loan into equity, while £250,000 was provided by new investors which Frontier chief executive Neil Crabb said were “a range of experienced investors with backgrounds across the finance and agriculture sectors".
The funding round means that Fieldworks Robotics is now worth just over £5m, with Frontier holding a 26.9pc stake worth £1.33m.
Fieldwork’s raspberry-picking robot is the brainchild of former aerospace engineer Dr Martin Stoelen. The development of fruit-picking robots is aimed at addressing the increasing shortage of seasonal migrant labour often used to pick fruit at harvest times.
Growers across Britain need 70,000 workers at peak times to collect fruit and vegetables and the National Farmers Union (NFU) reported that 56pc of growers said they did not have the workforce they needed in 2018.
The multi-armed robot identifies ripe raspberries via a camera-based artificial intelligence, before the fruit is plucked from the vine and deposited in a punnet. While the robot is not as fast as a human picker, Stoelen hopes that each arm will eventually be able to pick 25,000 raspberries in a 20-hour shift.
Fieldworks decided to start with raspberries as they are the most challenging fruit to pick – and largely untested by competitors – but the robot could be adapted in the future to pick other fruits and vegetables.
The robot, which was previously supported by a £550,000 UK Innovate grant, has successfully completed two field trials with soft fruit grower Hunter Hall Partnership.
The company hopes that it will be fully autonomous by March this year as it looks to develop the system for commercial roll-out.
“We’re not going to see robots solving every problem next year,” Stoelen said. “It might take five, even 10 years to see a roll-out of mass-produced robots doing these tasks. But for some specific higher-value crops, we can see robotic solutions entering the market within the next two to three years.”
Source: The Telegraph