The First Fleet. The world's first fleet of multi modal soft fruit robots

Lead Participant: Saga Robotics Limited

Abstract

"The UK soft fruit market is now worth well over £1.3 billion at retail sales values (Source: Kantar) per annum. The UK grows over 160,000 tonnes of fruit and employs 32,000 seasonal and, typically, migrant pickers. Approximately 50% of the total production cost is for labour. The soft fruit industry is extremely concerned with the both the availability of picking and husbandry labour and labour cost inflation. The impact of Brexit is already affecting labour supply and the opportunities to pass on labour cost inflation are weak and challenging. The soft fruit sector is a UK success story and there are still opportunities for expansion and to reduce fruit imports. However, it is very clear that to thrive the industry needs to drive every possible means to improve to labour productivity.

Robots for soft fruit production clearly offers great opportunity in the sector. Here we will develop the world's first fleet of multi-modal robots that can carry out a wide variety of tasks in the field. Strawberry production is a complex task, and several different tasks need to be performed throughout the season. This is the first project that reflects this, in that we aim to develop robots that are completely autonomous that can carry out several different tasks in the field. We will build on current research by Saga Robotics, Berry Gardens and the University of Lincoln (UoL), complimenting the team for the first time with the inclusion of the University of Oxford and NIAB. Saga have already demonstrated world leading picking performance (in terms of vision system accuracy and picking speed) for their fruit picking robot. The system will then be integrated into the world leading Thorvald robotic platform that has been developed by Saga with UoL. In addition, we will develop a wide range of other tools that will be integrated with the robots. The robots will autonomously pick up the tools from a tool changer, and they will also charge and dock autonomously.

This is a much-needed project that will transform robotic strawberry production from the laboratory bench to a commercially relevant system. The world-wide market for these machines and IP is very significant."

Lead Participant

Project Cost

Grant Offer

Saga Robotics Limited £806,201 £ 564,341
 

Participant

University of Lincoln, United Kingdom £487,044 £ 487,044
Fotenix Limited, Manchester £130,598 £ 91,419
Berry Gardens Growers Limited, Tonbridge, UNITED KINGDOM £199,640 £ 99,820

Publications

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