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How this AI-powered raspberry-picking robot is changing the future of farming?

Fieldwork Robotics funding
Picture credits: Fieldwork Robotics

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) estimates that up to £22 million worth of UK fruit and vegetables are wasted annually and left to rot in fields as a direct result of farming 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 with its advanced, AI-supported harvesting robots that are touted to increase farm efficiency and reduce food wastage in the UK and beyond.

The BerryBot Project 

After raising £1.5 million last year, Fieldwork Robotics has now been awarded a £515K grant from the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to accelerate its £1.1 million BerryBot Project. 

Fieldwork will lead the project working alongside Performance Projects Ltd, a leader in agricultural robotics manufacturing, and the Hall Hunter Partnership (HHP), one of the UK’s largest berry growers. 

The BerryBot Project will further develop the robot’s hardware, software, and control/vision to enable picking at an enhanced rate. The project is focused on increasing the performance and robustness of Fieldwork Robotics’ raspberry harvesting robot, Alpha, which will allow it to offer an operational and profitable robotics harvesting service to UK raspberry growers by 2025.

The robotics technology will be tested regularly at HHP’s raspberry farms, enabling the team to make adjustments based on real-world usage helping to optimise the productivity of the robot. This collaboration will also allow the team to identify the optimum raspberry growing environment, further enhancing the benefit to farmers of Fieldwork’s technology.

AI-powered harvesting robot, Alpha 

Fieldwork Robotics was founded in 2016 by Martin Stoelen in Cambridge as a spinout of the University of Plymouth. The company has developed the first autonomous raspberry harvesting robot, named Alpha in collaboration with Bosch. It analyses the crop, decides when to harvest the raspberries, and places them in punnets ready for delivery to supermarkets. 

Alpha gives growers the ability to extend operations to 24 hours a day, increasing harvesting time threefold. With farmers struggling to recruit farm workers, Alpha can assure that farmers’ capability to harvest will not be impacted by seasonal or policy-led variations in available labour supply. It is touted that this technology allows growers to significantly increase their harvesting efficiency and reduce the food wastage caused by human labour shortages.

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