Fieldwork Robotics, a University of Plymouth spinout company, has signed an agreement with international electronics giant Robert Bosch Ltd to speed development of its robot crop-harvesting technology.
The collaboration will see engineers from the two companies working to optimise Fieldwork’s soft robotic arms and develop software aimed at reducing production costs and increasing their speed.
The objective is to enable the spinout to move into full-scale production and marks a significant step forward in the commercialisation of the technology.
Fieldwork was incorporated to develop and commercialise the work of Lecturer in Robotics Dr Martin Stoelen, who also leads the Soft and Adaptive Robotics lab in the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics.
Initially, it is focusing on developing robots to harvest raspberries, which are more delicate and easily damaged than other soft fruits, and grow on bushes with complex foliage and berry distribution.
It is also developing proof-of-concept robots for other crops – including cauliflowers and tomatoes – following interest from leading multinational agribusinesses.
Rui Andres, Fieldwork Robotics Chief Executive Officer, said:
“This agreement is the result of several discussions between all the parties and the increasing interest in robotics within Bosch’s agribusiness. We are looking forward to working alongside Bosch to further increase the pace of development and preparing the future path of our robots.”
Jenny Patten, Head of Business Development for Bosch UK, added:
“To accelerate the development of technology that has the potential to improve people’s quality of life and work, it is incredibly important that organisations – big and small – collaborate, making the best use of skills, knowledge and resources. To this end Bosch UK is very pleased to support Fieldwork Robotics in the development of their robotic arms for harvesting soft fruit and vegetables.”
The agreement was brokered by Frontier IP, the University’s commercialisation partner, and is the latest partnership between one of its spinout companies and Bosch.
In April last year, Pulsiv Solar signed an agreement to optimise the design of its solar micro-inverter prototype, meaning that when the prototype moves into full-scale production, it will be able to market the devices as ‘Engineered by Bosch’.
Fieldwork is using the £298,000 raised in a January funding round, which valued the business at more than £5million, to accelerate development and scale-up of its robotic technology.
Work to date has been supported by a £547,250 Innovate UK grant, as part of a £671,484 project to develop the multi-armed robot prototype. Other partners in the project included the University of Plymouth and the National Physical Laboratory.
Neil Crabb, Frontier IP Chief Executive Officer, said:
“Industry engagement is a vital part of validating the commercial viability of new technology, so we are delighted to be extending our relationship with Bosch UK. They have provided invaluable support for our work with Pulsiv in optimising its solar microinverter for manufacturability. Agricultural automation is a long-term trend, but one which has been thrown into sharp relief recently from the impact on human labour of COVID-19, demonstrating the potential value of Fieldwork’s technology. We are very much looking forward to working with Bosch UK on this project.”