A low-cost robotic platform which can be fitted with almost any agricultural implement could help farmers across the UK to overcome the lack of available manual labour.
The Robotriks Traction Unit (RTU), created by startup company Robotriks, costs just £7,000 – almost a tenth of the cost of most other products on the market.
Powered by batteries which last for 24 hours, it can be built within a few hours and made available for a range of tasks from crop monitoring to harvesting crops like cauliflowers.
Robotriks was co-founded by Jake Shaw-Sutton, Senior Robotics Technician at the University of Plymouth, and Khaian Marsh and is based near St Austell in Cornwall.
Both grew up on farms, so they had an idea of the challenges facing the sector but could also put the RTU through its paces in real-life situations, including testing for soil compaction.
Jake Gibson Shaw-Sutton with one of the Robotriks platforms
Mr Shaw-Sutton, an MEng (Hons) Robotics graduate, said:
“This is not about taking away jobs, it’s about filling jobs where there currently are no people available to do them. For a while there have been fewer people willing to go out into the fields and harvest fruit and vegetables; this is an autonomous solution to that, and one which is affordable and reliable.
“Even with the current cost of the unit, which we’re always trying to improve, it still works out cheaper than having someone employed on minimum wage – it can work for more hours, not needing lunch breaks or to sleep at night.”
Jake Gibson Shaw-Sutton grew up on farms and has tested the platform extensively in the field
Mr Shaw-Sutton added:
“The unit is fully adjustable to any height and width. Some farms may have narrow paths, for example in fruit and vegetables, or it might need to go wider to get over tall crops. And currently you just plug in to charge it, but we are considering having a docking station, because all of the power can be harvested from a single solar panel.
“While the RTU is still in the testing phase, it is being offered commercially to researchers and we hope it will have enough functionality to offer to a wider market over the next year.”
Robotriks is part of a cluster of exciting technology companies emerging at the University of Plymouth in conjunction with the Agri-Tech Cornwall project.
That includes Fieldwork Robotics, a spinout launched to commercialise a series of robot crop-harvesting technology that is currently valued in excess of £5million.
Yve Metcalfe-Tyrrell, Agri-Tech Project Manager at the University, said:
“This is technology being demanded by industry and the South West is at the forefront of meeting that demand. The University has a long track record in robotics and we are now applying that in ways that have the potential to transform the future of agriculture. We have been working closely with Robotriks to enable them to develop and know that this is only the start. Together with other emerging companies, their growth can create a cluster of excellence that positions the South West as the epicentre of agricultural and technological innovation.”
Taking BEng (Hons) Robotics to the next level, this MEng course digs deeper into the robotic technologies that are shaping today and tomorrow.
Providing an extra year of insight and training, your learning will be informed by robotics research pushing boundaries worldwide led by our very own teaching staff. You’ll build technical and managerial skills that you can put into practice daily, through a final group project that will set your course for success when you graduate.
The University of Plymouth is proud to be a partner on the Agri-Tech Cornwall project, a £10 million initiative to help the United Kingdom become a world leader in agricultural technology and sustainability.
Researchers from the University will share their expertise and collaborate with small and medium-sized Cornish companies to research the future sustainability of the sector.