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Fieldwork Robotics receives £600K grant for AI-powered raspberry-picking robot

Fieldwork Robotics funding
Picture credits: Fieldwork Robotics

Farms in Europe, and worldwide, are suffering from a continuous and worsening shortage of workers. As per the National Farmers’ Union, as much as £60 million of food will be left to rot on farms this year due to labour shortages. Especially, raspberry producers face several systemic issues such as this shortage and declining net margins. Farmers need cost-effective solutions to help boost harvesting yields and protect profits.

Cambridge-based Fieldwork Robotics addresses this challenge with its AI-supported harvesting robots. In a recent development, the company has been awarded a £600k government grant by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Innovate UK. Previously, the company raised a £515K grant and a £1.5 million funding to develop its technology. 

It is said that Fieldwork Robotics will use this funding in the BerryAI Project, which will support the development of its technology, bringing AI-powered vision and advanced decision-making technology to its robots. Furthermore, the company is all set to complete field trials within the next quarter and witness the real-world applications of its harvesting technology. 

Appoints new CFO

In addition to the grant, Fieldwork Robotics has appointed Christopher Levine as its Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Christopher was a Finance Director at management consultancy Global Counsel, part of WPP Group, and worked with several private equity (PE) backed technology startups. 

AI-powered autonomous harvesting

Fieldwork Robotics was founded in 2016 by Martin Stoelen in Cambridge. Fieldwork’s proprietary AI technology combined with its unique modular soft robotic arms bring together cutting-edge hardware and software to offer highly advanced harvesting robots. Its BerryAI Project works to enhance the AI-powered vision of the robot, and to improve its decision-making capabilities. 

The updated robotic system will have enhanced AI capabilities, meaning that the model will have the capacity to work in a fleet with one operator running multiple robots across the field. This is touted to reduce the labour intensity of the harvesting process and improve harvesting efficiency. 

Until now, the cameras on Fieldwork’s robots have mostly utilised the human visual spectrum,  mimicking the ability of a human harvester. This project will incorporate technology that utilises wavelengths invisible to the human eye, facilitated by its partner Fotenix. This development will improve the robot’s ability to detect crops and determine ripeness. 

The BerryAI Project targets decision-making within the robots to improve their autonomy. The expectation is to improve AI decision-making will allow the robots to operate for long periods with minimal human oversight, making the robots increasingly cost-effective and efficient. It will make it realistic to manage a large fleet of robots with a small workforce.  

David Fulton, Fieldwork Robotics’ Chief Executive Office, said: “This is an exciting time for Fieldwork. I am delighted to welcome Christopher to the team, who brings exceptional knowledge and experience to support Fieldwork as we further scale our business. Fieldwork is the only company in the world with the technology to autonomously harvest raspberries, and this funding round will allow us to build upon our first-mover advantage in the $2.2bn fresh  raspberry industry.”

Christopher Levine, Fieldwork Robotics’ Chief Financial Officer, commented, “I am pleased to have joined the  Fieldwork team. The company is operating at the forefront of a rapidly growing sector, AgriTech  robotics, and I’m excited to work with David and the team to further develop the company.” 

Martin Stoelen, Fieldwork Robotics Founder and Chief Science Officer commented: “Harnessing the robot’s capacity for autonomy is key to scaling up Fieldwork’s offering. The combination of these two key steps in software development – super-human vision and improved autonomous decision-making – will make Fieldwork’s technology an even more commercially viable option for growers internationally, securing them against the ongoing challenges of a diminishing and inconsistent seasonal workforce.”

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