Robotics spinout wins Innovate UK grant to support work through pandemic

A University of Plymouth spinout company has been awarded a £145,000 grant by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, to accelerate the development of its robotics technology.

The grant, supplemented by a £30,000 investment from its own funds, will help Fieldwork Robotics to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the company.

Fieldwork, created to commercialise the work of Lecturer in Robotics Dr Martin Stoelen, will use the funding to create a digital simulator of its robotics technology.

Among other advantages, the simulator will allow engineers to work remotely during lockdowns and optimise internal processes to reduce prototyping costs. An alpha prototype for manufacturability of its raspberry-harvesting robot is expected for trials in spring next year.

The move also marks a deepening in Fieldwork’s relationship with industry partner Bosch, which will be supporting the company on the simulator development.

The Sustainable Innovation Fund grant follows the award of an £84,000 Innovate UK continuity grant to support work through COVID-19 in September 2020. Fieldwork’s costs, including those for raw materials, have risen during the pandemic.

In addition, Fieldwork announced it had won a £547,250 Innovate UK Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund grant in April 2019 to accelerate development of its technology, part of a £671,484 project involving partners including the University of Plymouth and the National Physical Laboratory.

Rui Andres, Fieldwork Robotics Chief Executive Officer, said:

“Innovate UK has been following our work closely, and we are very grateful for the continued support. This grant will allow us to build a tool that will save us time and money, while mitigating the effects of COVID-19. The Bosch collaboration has been invaluable, and we are very keen to keep developing our work together. And finally, this grant helps to reduce our carbon footprint, minimising the amount of plastic we require for the development of our robots.”

Despite the many challenges facing industry as a whole, Fieldwork Robotics has made strong progress during 2020.

This has included completing a third set of field trials of its raspberry harvesting robot and signing a three-year project in partnership with Bonduelle, one of the world’s leading vegetable producers, to develop a cauliflower-harvesting version of the technology.

In July, it also announced a collaboration with Robert Bosch Limited to optimise the robot’s arms and software to reduce cost and increase speed. The Company is also progressing in developing further applications of its technology for agriculture.

Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, is investing up to £191million to fund single and collaborative research and development projects as part of the Sustainable Innovation Fund over the next two years. The aim of these competitions is to help all sectors of the UK rebuild after the effects of COVID-19.

The Sustainable Innovation Fund is funding 1,103 projects, 1,189 UK businesses and totals over £130 million in support across the UK.

Innovate UK Executive Chair Dr Ian Campbell said:

“In these difficult times we have seen the best of British business innovation. The pandemic is not just a health emergency but one that impacts society and the economy. Fieldwork Robotics along with every initiative Innovate UK has supported through this fund, is an important step forward in driving sustainable economic development. Each one is also helping to realise the ambitions of hard-working people.”

Neil Crabb, Chief Executive Officer of the University's commercialisation partner Frontier IP, which holds a 26.7 per cent equity stake in the company, said:

“We are delighted to see this continued validation of Fieldwork’s technology by government and industry. Innovate UK has been a consistent supporter of the company, while Bosch’s work on the simulator marks a further step up in the relationship.”

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