Fieldwork Robotics secures funding to accelerate development of harvesting robots

Fieldwork Robotics, a University of Plymouth spinout company developing a range of harvesting robots to support the agriculture sector, has raised £675,000 through an equity fundraising from existing and new investors.

The proceeds will allow Fieldwork to accelerate scale up of a raspberry harvesting robot to bring it to market. It also means the company will be able to embark on the development of a cauliflower-harvesting robot in collaboration with Bonduelle, one of the world’s largest vegetable producers.

As part of the fundraising, University of Plymouth Enterprises Limited – the University’s commercial consultancy and contract arm, has converted £44,000 of patent costs into equity. The funding round means Frontier IP’s equity stake in the business is now 22.2 per cent.

An alpha prototype of the raspberry harvester is to enter further field trials in July this year, subject to COVID-19 restrictions. Fieldwork will then focus on preparing the robot design for manufacture.

Fieldwork’s technology is designed to be flexible and modular so it can be adapted to harvesting different soft fruit and vegetables, and the company is progressing with further applications for agriculture.

The technology’s potential has been recognised by Innovate UK, which awarded a £547,250 Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund grant in November 2018 to accelerate development of its technology. This was part of a £671,484 project, whose other partners included the University of Plymouth and the National Physical Laboratory.

Innovate UK has since awarded a further three grants totalling £303,000 to accelerate development through the COVID-19 pandemic and a £50,000 Eastern Agri-Tech-Growth Initiative grant from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to support the cost reduction of specific components.

Rui Andres, Fieldwork Robotics Chief Executive Officer, said:

“This fundraising allows us to start the work with Bonduelle and to accelerate the development of our raspberry harvesting robot. The investment demonstrates the strong interest in the technology at a time when growers all over the world are struggling to recruit labour.”

Neil Crabb, Chief Executive Officer of Frontier IP (the University’s IP partner), added:

“I am delighted with the strong progress Fieldwork has made despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. This investment is an important step forward in allowing the company to achieve its ambitions.”

Fieldwork Robotics is one of a number of spinout companies to have incorporated world-class research and attracted significant commercial investment. Others include biomedical companies The Vaccine Group and Amprologix Limited, photovoltaic and green energy company Pulsiv Solar, and water/bacterial testing specialists Molendotech.

Fieldwork Robotics 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, Fieldwork 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.

Fieldwork is also developing proof-of-concept robots for other crops – including cauliflowers and tomatoes – following interest from leading multinational agribusinesses.

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