Raspberry picking robots developed by University of Plymouth spin-off company Fieldwork Robotics have now been deployed commercially in two locations in Portugal.
The robots – equipped with four picking arms – successfully operate autonomously, with completely redesigned sensor technology and grippers to reduce slippage and reduce harvest time.
The picked fruit passes all quality checks, and the company is now working to further speed up the picking process so that each robot can harvest 2 kg of fruit per hour, while striving to reduce production costs, with changes in materials. used for robots.
Fieldwork Robotics was launched in 2016 to develop and commercialize the work of robotics professor Dr Martin Stoelen, and the company is now based in Cambridge. His goal has always been to create autonomous robots that can work alongside the human workforce, bridging productivity gaps.
It has currently developed two systems – a vertical harvester that can be adjusted to the height of fruiting plants and a horizontal platform that can navigate multiple farming environments and be deployed through rows of crops for picking without human supervision.
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The long-term goal is for each robot to be able to pick more than 25,000 raspberries in a day, but can continue to operate as long as its batteries remain powered. In contrast, human workers select about 15,000 in a typical eight-hour shift.
Director and CEO Rui Andres said: “The UK alone is facing a shortage of around 90,000 harvesters which may impact food availability. Our goal has always been to help growers harvest everything they produce, minimizing waste and ensuring they can operate sustainably.
“Thanks to our technological advancements and our commercial deployments, we are making real progress in the development of our harvesting robots. Raspberries are very sensitive, so we developed a technology that can apply enough pressure to release the fruit from the stem without damaging it. At the same time, our sensors are now so advanced that they can tell if the fruit is ready to be harvested or not, which means that what can be sold is all that is picked.
Since its launch, Fieldwork has raised significant funds through external investment and equity fundraising, including raising £675,000 through an equity fundraising from existing and new investors in March 2021, and by receiving over £850,000 from Innovate UK to accelerate the scaling up of its robot raspberry harvest to bring it to market.
Along the way, it has developed partnerships with some of the world’s leading fruit and vegetable producers, including Bonduelle and the Hall Hunter partnership, while also working to optimize its technology in collaboration with Bosch engineers.
In addition to raspberries, its robots can be adapted to different crops by changing software algorithms and harvesting tools.